Download or listen to Advent Midweek III, “Water Everywhere” (Isaiah 35:1-10)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Thirsty. The people are thirsty for real, divine justice and for an end to their real, spiritual uncleanness. Thirsty for an end to anxiety, an end to hands weak with the works of wickedness and knees weak with the weight of the world. Thirsty for something to fill empty spaces in stomachs and souls. And “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:23-24a, ESV). And it is not just the people who are thirsty. We are not unconnected from the earth, floating around in the atmosphere, waiting for something, anything, to happen. We are made of the earth, tied to this creation through our father Adam. We are bound and determined by our feet of clay and our lack of wings. Dust you are, and to dust you shall return. And so our future is tied to the future of this creation: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from the bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:20-22, ESV). When those made in the Image of their Maker are released from their bondage to the corruption they brought upon themselves, then the whole creation will be released as well. “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19, ESV).
But the wilderness is glad, because in it walks the feet of Him whose sandals John was not worthy to carry. The dry land is glad, because it is filled with the living Water of Him who satisfies every thirst. The desert rejoices, covered with flowers. And it is all hints and whispers of the glory of Yahweh and the majesty of our God, who brings life out of death, who lifts the chin of the downcast face, and who embraces the lost and the longing. “See! Your God, He comes to make things right! With the righteous justice, God comes; He comes to save you” (Isaiah 35:4). What has been seen and heard—blind eyes that see, useless limbs that work, stone ears unplugged, thick tongues loosed—all these are simply the signs pointing beneath the dusty surface for those with eyes to see and ears to hear: God Himself has come in the flesh, and He is making a Holy Way for you to walk on through this world, just as He did on the way from Egypt to the Land of Promise. He sent his word to heal you, to deliver you from your destruction (Psalm 107:20). “He wrought such works, and persuaded those who were [destined to] believe on Him; for even if any one be labouring under a defect of body, yet be an observer of the doctrines delivered by Him, He shall raise him up at His second advent perfectly sound, after He has made him immortal, and incorruptible, and free from grief” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ch. LXIX [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.iv.lxix.html]).
When you are wasting away in the prison of this sinful flesh like John in Herod’s prison, and feeling the weight of this world bound to corruption, and all the things that simply will not go right, the Promise still comes to you. “Be strong; fear not!” Your God knows weakness and helplessness; He knows sickness and death; He knows weeping and mourning. And Advent, with all its longing and hoping and praying, is a reminder of the way things normally go in this world. Things are not all sparkle and light and perfection, wrapped up neatly and tied with a pretty bow. But your God doesn’t just know those things, as if the mere act of experiencing them along with you could help you. He’s not just up in heaven, sympathizing with your plight and cheering you on. He descends. He does the things that were prophesied about the coming of the Messiah. And so our perfect Christmas takes place around a tree, but one that has been stripped of its leaves and fashioned into a cross. If you have an anxious and restless heart, look there, to the glory of Yahweh in this world. Because this desert of death blossoms with rejoicing.
Once, in a letter from prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Life in a prison cell may well be compared with Advent. One waits, hopes, does this, that, or the other—things which are really of no consequence—the door is shut, and can be opened only from the outside” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 79). The door can only be opened from the outside, by the God who opened it from the inside of human flesh. And so we wait. But for now, just look around! There is water everywhere, and it flows from the Temple of the Living God. Just a drip, then a trickle, then ankle-deep, then knee-deep, then waist-deep, flowing from the heart of God in His Son. And on the banks of that river, there are trees whose leaves will not wither and whose fruit will not fail, which bear fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing (Ezekiel 47:1-12). You are those trees, joined by baptism to the Tree of Life, and Christ’s Word is that water. Drink it up! Free for the taking! Drink and be satisfied, and never thirst forever. Drink from the Rock which is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4), and you will return and come with singing to Zion, the mountain of Yahweh. You have been ransomed by the blood of Jesus from the world, the devil, and your own sinful flesh, and, for His sake, you will be crowned with everlasting joy; joy and gladness will overtake you like a flood, and sorrow and sighing will be washed forever away.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/17/13