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Tuesday, December 11, 2007
When God comes to save, no one gets left behind. In Isaiah, the barren places of creation gush with the waters of new life. The psalmist and Mary rejoice in God, who lifts up the vulnerable. John’s wondering of “are you the one?” finds an answer in a litany of Jesus’ saving actions. Where there appears to be no way forward, God makes a highway homeward. Isaiah 35:1–10 This passage seems directly aimed at the exiles of Judah in Babylon in the sixth century bce. Hundreds of miles of desert wilderness separated them from the land of Judah. For many, Jerusalem was only a memory passed down from the previous generation. Over time, some of the captives had come to achieve a level of comfort and even prosperity that likely made thoughts of leaving Babylon unappealing. God’s envisioned transformation of landscape – physical and spiritual – was the first step in creating the hope and even desire for returning home. So Isaiah writes of both a wilderness and a people renewed, in order to make the journey possible and engaging. The second half of verse 4 links God’s coming with “vengeance and terrible recompense.” While the words may seem out of context with the otherwise hopeful and life-affirming words of the passage, they offer hope to those who are afraid and oppressed, and call to mind Deuteronomy 32:35. There, God declares that “vengeance is mine.” The harshness of that image, however, may point to another truth. If vengeance is in God’s hands, then it is out of our hands. It is not ours to keep and then settle scores. These words can free us from vindictiveness. The beauty and power of this passage owes largely to the richness of imagery around land and water. At least four different words are used in the Hebrew to describe the arid places (wilderness, dry land, desert, thirsty ground). More words point to the remarkable variety of God’s gift of water (waters, streams, pool, springs, swamp). God brings life to parched places and parched persons. The “highway” provides a way home. The Hebrew is unclear in verses 8–9. It can be taken in a restrictive sense of some who may not travel there. Or, it can be heard as emphasizing the safety of this highway – even “fools” cannot get lost. This passage addresses the reality of God’s vision and promise. As in other prophetic works, these promises of God remain part of our lives today. God serves among us – as God served for the people of Judah – as the One who summons hope with promises of days still to come. Isaiah testifies that hope resides in the promised actions of God. We trust and we act in response, grounding what we do in God’s activity. As a result, creation’s transformation plays a large role in Isaiah’s message. Just as God brought all things into being in creation, so will God bring the new creation into life. God’s saving actions and their trans-formation of our “times” form consistent themes in the other readings. In Psalm 146:5–10, the psalmist speaks of God’s actions of justice in the present tense. Even so, the last verse looks forward to God’s future reign. In Luke 1:47–55, Mary rejoices. She celebrates what God has done for her. She also declares God’s actions of justice for those who are lowly or poor. Matthew 11:2–11 witnesses to Jesus’ identity by saying what Jesus is doing. James 5:7–10 seeks our patience as we wait for the time of God’s coming. On this third Sunday in Advent, observed by some traditions as “Rejoice Sunday,” the saving activities of God provide ample reason to rejoice. What might Kairos UCC point to as God’s saving activity towards our community : in actions past, present, and future? How, and for whom, do these texts lift up genuine cause for rejoicing today? Who might find them difficult to receive?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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