Isaiah 35.1-10; Psalm 146.5-10; James 5.7-10; Matthew 11.2-11
Into the lives of exiled Israelites, God is on the move – journeying home with them.
Into this season of Advent, God is on the move – coming to earth as a flesh and blood human being.
And because God is on the move, we are never alone.
We see it today in our text from Isaiah. It exudes palpable joy. Verse three alone - weak hands strengthened, feeble knees made firm – sounds like heaven to many! A blooming desert, people healed and made whole, a journey that needs no GPS, map OR sense of direction the path is so safe and easy to follow. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. It is a beautiful picture for us today, but for the people who heard it first, it was everything – it was about finally being able to go home.
They, the Israelites, many generations before, after wandering in the wilderness, the desert, with Moses, had finally arrived at the Promised Land. They had finally arrived home. They built the temple, the place where God lived. After being conquered and ruled by many different powers and kingdoms, along came the Babylonians. The Babylonians sent most of the Israelites into exile. For about 50 years they awaited their return. And finally it is here. There were two ways home – either straight across the inhospitable desert or the long and dangerous way around it.
To these homesick and trampled exiles, God speaks about a journey home through the desert. But not the dangerous desert they expect. This is a desert filled with water, where there is no danger from beast or famine, no danger of going astray, of being attacked. This is a journey home, finally – a journey with singing and redemption and everlasting joy. This is love on the move. This is God with God’s people. This is a reminder we are never alone.
It is a beautiful picture, but I have to imagine that not every exiled Israelite was bursting with joy. I would imagine that many (if not most) of them were, but among these people surely there were some who were terribly sick, some who had lost a child, some who were lonely, angry, suffering. To someone in deep grief, pain, or depression, even this most amazing news would not take their pain magically away and cause them to dance on down the road to Jerusalem.
And so it is in our world today as we prepare for Christmas. In this season of Advent we look forward to a little baby. He will grow to heal the sick, feed the hungry, stand with the oppressed. He will grow into such faithfulness that the world will reject him and execute him on a cross. And even in the face of the ultimate rejection, he will rise again. This is love on the move. This is God with God’s people. This is a reminder we are never alone.
Add the twinkling lights, beautiful music, time with beloved family and friends and it is a beautiful picture. And yet, just as there were surely Israelites struggling in the midst of homecoming, surely there are those among us who struggle in the midst of such amazing news. The story of a miraculous baby can be gut wrenchingly painful for those who are desperate to have a baby of their own. Empty chairs at holiday family meals remind us of deep grief and loss. Not enough money for presents for your children, being separated from loved ones, facing down a major health scare or job cuts can take all of the joy out of this season.
And yet, wherever we are, God is on the move. No matter our situation, our frame of mind, our overwhelming joy or complete lack of it – we are never alone. Where we are, from mountain highs to valley lows cannot change what God does for us. Whether this season you are so full of hope and joy you could simply burst, or so full of doubt and pain you want to hide from the twinkling lights and cheery greetings, Gods movement of love will not slow, will not pause, will not hesitate.
Emmanuel, which literally means “God with us” - is true for all times, all places, all circumstances. We are not alone. There is no place we can go Jesus will not be present. No valley or pit or wilderness we inhabit that God will not gladly go with us. Jesus comes to be with us, all of us and every part of us. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” we are reminded of this - “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
God’s love is on the move and it wraps up every bit of who we are, hopes and fears alike. God’s love is on the move and it’s always moving forward. God is always doing something new. God returns with the exiles to Jerusalem to build something new and different than before. Jesus comes to earth, not to hit a reset button to send us all back to the garden of Eden before everything went wrong, but Jesus comes to earth to do something new, something different than what was before.
This is the hope that we celebrate in the season of Advent: God’s presence with us and love on the move, coming to make all things new.
This hope meets us right where we are.
This Jesus meets us right where we are, takes our hand, and invites us to never be content to love just one thing.
This Emmanual meets us right where we are, and sweeps us up into the movement of God.