Fourth Week of Advent: Rejoice

Have you ever received good news about something that has yet to take place? Such as a letter saying that you will be receiving a job promotion in the new year, or that someone has begun labor and about to give birth? Your feelings about the situation are affected by the news, and you have cause for celebration even if the decisive event has not yet happened and nothing tangible has changed. This is the situation we see in Isaiah 35 as the prophet reveals God’s promise to the Israelites being held captive in Babylon. He proclaims to them the good news that the age of the LORD is dawning and that their people will be returning home!

“The redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing.”

Isaiah 35 is a poem full of wonder and awe at the might of God and the saving act he is accomplishing in the world. The poem begins in chapter 34 by telling the people to “Draw near, O nations, to hear, and give attention!” Before we get to the good part in chapter 35, Isaiah first describes God’s wrathful destruction of the evil in the world, so much that the place is turned into a desert. He uses the same words that Genesis 1 used to describe the emptiness of the cosmos; Eugene Peterson calls it “a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.”  I know that sometimes my world can feel like that.

However, God promises that it shall not remain an empty desert.

Isaiah then goes on to describe God’s redemption and re-creation of Jerusalem and how he is making it a place for the exiled Israelites to come back to from their captivity in Babylon. The desert will “blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing,” and those who are afflicted by “weak hands” and “feeble knees:” the blind, the deaf, the lame, will all be healed! The Lord is the one who prepares the Way for them.

While Isaiah and the Israelites had not yet seen the promised destruction of the Edomites nor the return of the exilic Israelites, this poem was a promise from God of what was to come. It would have seemed counter-intuitive for them to rejoice, for they were, in fact, still under the dominion and oppression of the Babylonian empire. However, the promise of God gave a reason for the exiles to rejoice, even though they had not yet been rescued and redeemed. This is why Isaiah could write,

“Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

While this great news of the promised return of the exiled Israelites takes place in a specific historical context with a specific people and event in mind, this story is pointing to the larger and ultimate promise of God to the world. It is like a set of Russian Nesting Dolls with a smaller story foreshadowing the larger story yet to come. In this case, it looks similar to the grand narrative of God redeeming His entire creation.

Just like Isaiah delivered good news to the Babylonian captives, John the Baptist delivered good news to the people in Jesus’ day. His message was of the coming Messiah, who would inaugurate the Kingdom of God. However, in Matthew 11, John the Baptist was questioning if Jesus was the expected Messiah. He even sent two of his own disciples to ask Jesus if they should look for another messiah! Why would he ask this? John had been put into jail by King Herod, and was expecting the Messiah to overthrow the ruling powers and bring in the Kingdom of God right then.

Surprisingly, John still found himself in jail.

Replying to John’s question, Jesus told the disciples to “hear and see” what he was doing in his ministry. Jesus wanted them to understand how his ministry fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 35 by giving the blind sight, making the lame walk, and making the deaf hear. His answer portrays the very fact that “Yes!” Jesus is the Messiah the people were looking for. Jesus’ ministry was in fact the crucial turning point in history from the prophetic era to the inauguration of the Kingdom of God. This is what the entire church since then has been proclaiming; Jesus is Lord and he is ruling on his throne! Even if, like the Israelites and John, we have not yet seen the completion of the good news.

Just like the Israelites, we can take heart and confidently rejoice that God is sovereign over this world!

All that was spoken of in the promises of Isaiah 35 are now being fulfilled by God, and because of that we can have hope even in the midst of our struggles. And because of this hope, we can rejoice because Jesus is Lord over all! He is reigning and has prepared our way before us and will come again. Even though we still live in a world with evil and suffering, we can rest assured in God’s promise that evil will not triumph. Like the Israelites, God is preparing a re-created place for us, a place that we will all someday come into with singing and joy! God, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, has revealed to us that he is in control of history, and it is he who is sitting on the throne.

What a great reason to rejoice!

John Lippert

Hello, I’m John; a Christ-follower, husband, father, and student! I’ve lived in Vancouver for the last two years while getting my Master’s degree and have enjoyed living in this beautiful city. I was delighted to write an Advent blog because before a few years ago I didn’t know what Advent was! Recently, I have enjoyed learning about the richness of the Christian calendar and how it helps to shape my life.