Vision of Joy from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus
2it 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.
3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
4Say 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."
5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6then 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;
7the 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.
8A 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.
9No 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.
10And 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.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
2When John heard in prison what the Messiah a was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 4Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.
9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written,
'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
Planning worship during Advent can be a challenge. One of my tasks is to choose the hymns each Sunday, and Advent can make that a challenge. Advent hymns are all about expectation, they're about the ways God will act, how the world will change. Think "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," and "Come thou Long Expected Jesus." The year, I've been stretching our Advent repertoire by sneaking a Christmas hymn in the service as our closing hymn. We come into the service waiting for the LORD, and we go out having seen his face.
For the Third Sunday of Advent, we watch and wait for God's coming, and light the candle in Joy. So the obvious Christmas song would be "Joy to the World, the LORD is come." It's got that Joy word in it, and everybody loves it!
But a serious look at the world shows that it's still a little too soon for "Joy to the World." We have a vision of joy that is still somewhat obscured. We hear the promise that the wilderness and dry land shall be glad, but the deserts we can see are not blooming. Instead of Isaiah's crocus, we see violence and terrorism. Instead of pools, we see wildfires. Instead of springs of water, we see bitter divides within families. Our hands are to weak to hold it all, and our knees are too feeble to carry it. It's still too soon to for "Joy to the World." We need the mournful music of Advent, the patient longing of "Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence."
In waiting, however, there is still a vision of joy to be shared. We don't get there by pretending the desert doesn't exist, we hold on to the vision of joy by reminding each other that the desert will end. Our vision of joy guides us to look for and to see how the kingdom of heaven is already breaking through the wilderness and dry land. Our vision of joy trains us to strengthen the weak hands and make firm the weak knees. God has given us this vision of joy so that his Church can "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.’”
Last week, we heard John the Baptist’s cry from the wilderness. He gave us a vision of peace that comes from God’s justice. That radical peace can only come from the wilderness, and this week, that wild vision has landed him in prison. I wonder, in his prison cell, if John the Baptist had a fearful heart. After all, it’s well-known what happens to prophets who do their job. They very rarely live in comfort. I wonder, in his prison cell, if John the Baptist was looking for blooms in the desert when he heard what the Messiah was doing.
“I’m stuck here in the desert, imprisoned in the wilderness and dry land,” We imagine John saying. “I know that the LORD is sending his anointed one. Is it this Jesus? Is he the one who is bringing pools of water to the dry ground of my life? Go and ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’”
So John’s disciples go and find Jesus, whom Matthew clearly identifies as the Messiah as he’s telling the story. They put John’s question before the Messiah, and wait for an answer. Jesus, as we know, had a tendency to not give easy answers. This is an easy question, looking for a quick-fix answer. Give us truth and we’ll take it back to John, and then everything will be resolved. We can feel the seriousness in their question, asking who Jesus is, and what they should be doing.
The task set before all people, our human purpose, is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. Now I think we Presbyterian types can be pretty good at glorifying God. We celebrate good doctrine, we hold reverent worship services, and we emphasize God’s sovereignty over our lives and all creation.
Where we get tripped up, I think, is the “enjoy God forever” bit. My life has a tendency to get overly serious. Everything becomes about responsibility and righteous living.
One Christmas back before Leah and I were married, we embarked on what I like to call “The Great Southeastern Tour.”
I can testify that I am not the only one in this congregation who tends towards seriousness. We get so over-focused on the problem at hand and finding the right solution that we burn ourselves out. Serious has its place in crisis moments, it can get you through the wilderness and the dry land and the desert. But seriousness doesn’t let you see that the desert is blooming. I think John’s disciples are holding on to their seriousness too much. They have lost their “enjoy God forever.”
Why wouldn’t they be serious. Their teacher, a great prophet, is imprisoned. The Romans are cracking down on dissenters. Injustice surrounds them as they constantly see fearful hearts, weak hands, and feeble knees. They have scrubbed their lives thoroughly with seriousness. It’s as though some sort of soap poisoning has left them blind to enjoying God’s action in the world. They are serious disciples who bring a serious question.
So Jesus playfully sidesteps their question and breaks them out of their serious cycle. He doesn’t answer their question, but opens their eyes to the vision of joy that has already surrounded them. After all, John had already heard about these things going on when he sent his disciples. Jesus doesn’t give them new information, he gives them new vision, a vision of Joy.
That vision blossoms out of the desert, putting aside our seriousness and leaving room for pools of water where once there had been burning sands, springs of water in place of thirsty ground. Jesus’s playful answer teases us into enjoying God’s work again instead of being trapped by our seriousness.
Jesus points John’s disciples, and us, to see the joy around them in the world, instead of settling for a simple answer. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” John will know that these are marks of the Messiah, but his disciples will have more of a tale to tell as they engage with the joy that the Son of Man brings. They must look for gladness in the wilderness as well.
Jesus’s way of answering John’s disciples empowers them for testimony. They don’t have an answer, they have the experience of what they have seen. They have a charge to go and tell. They have a vision of joy that tells them what to watch for.
Glorify God and enjoy! In a world full of cynicism and distrust we are in a position to share unmitigated joy! That's the vision we cast, that's the standard we raise. "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
These are things we have seen, these are joys that are set before us. All we have to do is set aside our seriousness long enough to remember that all people are here to enjoy our glorious God. And as a church, we are charged to Go and tell about the joy we have found following Christ. We are sent to Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees. We are to “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.’”
In these serious times, it may be a little too soon to sing “Joy to the World,” but we can look with wonder on the Messiah, on Emmanuel, God-with-us, on Jesus who is the one who is to come, and be overcome our serious melts away into joyful reverence and an urging to go and tell the joy that we have found following Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. That, brothers and sisters, is a vision of joy.