Excerpted from Cultivating Care for Creation, an Advent Guide for Lectionary Year A from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
I was once lost—literally—some miles south of Nowhere. In this case, Nowhere, Wyoming. (Yes, it’s a real place.) This was before the days of cell phones, let alone GPS. As you might imagine, south of Nowhere was a vast stretch of not much at all, a landscape devoid of visible habitants or visible life. It was the “high lonesome” of deepest wilderness.
But—there was a highway. And highways might lead us to nowhere—but they also must lead us to somewhere, if we keep our wits about us, if we keep our faith.
In Isaiah 35, the prophet describes, in beautifully vibrant language, the journey of the people of God out from a place of wilderness and emptiness into a profoundly altered landscape—a landscape now bursting with profuse life and abundance when before there had been nothing, and they were nowhere. Even more, those who had simply been wandering about, lost in the “high lonesome,” have now been given a raised road, a path on which to place their feet, turn around, and come home. They will do so, we’re told, wearing a crown of everlasting joy—which describes perfectly my own sense of euphoria and release at finding that the same highway that had led me into lost-ness could take me back toward habitation, toward life, toward home.
Our faith can at times feel like a two-way street (or road). Sometimes, it seems to lead us into a high lonesome place, where we fail to see any signs of life, of hope, of assurance that we’re heading in the right direction. But just as in any piece of desert geography, life is always there, perhaps invisible to our eye, but pushing silently upward through the surface, moving soundlessly across the seemingly empty landscape. Life is always there. And eventually, while we’re wandering around lost and confused in this place of wilderness, we will realize that this road of faith that has brought us here will surely lead us back out again—toward life more abundant, toward home.
There, in the place that once was wilderness, once a place of wandering, will be a raised road. There will be no more wandering (35:8) and no more danger (35:9). The people God has redeemed and ransomed will walk on it, and they will turn, and they will come home (35:8-9). As they walk homeward, upon their head, like a canopy, a garland, or a crown, will be a joy not bound by time. Rejoicing and gladness will meet them on the road. Sorrow and sighing will flee (35:10).
Isaiah 35 invites us to reflect on this Advent season not only as God’s coming in Christ, but also as our coming home. God comes. God is here. We leap and shout and sing. And together we walk home.
Prayer: Divine Creator – take us where we need to go, be with us on the journey, and lead us back out again, always toward home. Toward you.