Are You the One?
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

December 15, 2013
Third Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 35:1-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

Isaiah is told to proclaim a word to the people with faint hearts.

Be strong, fear not!

This is not a question, or a suggestion, or a good idea. It is in the imperative. It is a command.

Be strong, fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.

The vengeance and recompense here is not God smiting people who have moral failings. It is about the restoration of a desperate and hurting people. This is a reversal of fortune where those who oppress and those who enslave are no longer in power and those who are oppressed and those who are enslaved are freed.

Following this imperative, this exhortation to be strong and fear not, Isaiah makes a fantastic claim:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a hart,
and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.

Even more bold is the reason why these great expressions of healing and joy will happen.

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;

That which is unlivable shall become life sustaining. That which was without water will have springs and pools. But he is not done there.

And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not pass over it,
and fools shall not err therein.
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.

God is going to make a way where there was no way. Again. God will make a way where there was no way.

From Babylon, located in the middle of what is now Iraq, to Israel normally you go northwest along the Euphrates river, and then you cut southwest through Syria. To go straight west from Babylon to Israel is to try and cross barren wilderness, impassible desert, lifeless and deadly.

But God is going to let them cross what is impassible: not way up the Euphrates and all the way back down through Syria, but straight west, they will cross this impassible desert (sounding familiar?…a little Exodus anyone?) and they will be safe.

“No lion shall be there.” This is good. “No lions” is good. Not sure lions really like waterless deserts very much. More of a savannah dweller, lions. So not sure it is much of a promise to say there are no lions in such a place.

Except that all of the exiles know two things: the Ishtar gate into Babylon had large murals of lions – it was one of the symbols of the Babylonians. And you don’t talk about empire directly, you use code. So everywhere they go in Babylon, there are lions, symbols of captivity, of empire’s power. Isaiah says there will be no captors, no oppressors, no jailers on this road. No this is for the ones God is redeeming, the ones God is saving. The ones God is bringing out of death and into life.

Finally comes the claim of Isaiah, the promise of God, for the hurting hearts of Israel.

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.

Fast forward a few centuries. John the Baptizer has gotten himself thrown into jail. Unlike Isaiah, he went and called out Herod by name. But John, who preached about the one who is coming, has heard about this Jesus fellow. And he sends his disciples with a very important, a very loaded question: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Walter Brueggemann says that Jesus answered, “I don’t know, the creeds haven’t been written yet.”

The problem with the question “are you the one we are looking for?” is that to answer it requires knowing what they are looking for. Are they looking for a military overthrow of another empire, this one Roman? Are they looking for a royal king to sit in Jerusalem as David did, to set up a new earthly dynasty? Are they looking for one who will restore the fortunes of the nation to the glory days of Solomon?

Jesus does not ask. He simply points out what he has been doing.

the blind receive their sight and the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear,
and the dead are raised up,
and the poor have good news preached to them.
And blessed is he for whom I am not a stumbling block.

Sounds like what God did for the exiles, doesn’t it? God, through Jesus is making a way where there was no way, through the wilderness, living water in the deserts of life, bringing the lost and the exiled and the tired and the oppressed and the hurting and the yearning and the you and the me home. If that is what they mean, then yes, he is the one they are waiting for. If they are looking for something other than healing and feeding and homecoming and hope and joy and living together like we need one another, if they are looking for something other than that, then they had better keep looking.

How will we recognize Jesus in our midst? How will we recognize Christ in our hearts?

    • Water in the desert,
    • New life in what had been wilderness,
    • A way where there had been no way,
    • Homecoming,
    • Food for the hungry,
    • Healing,
    • Clothing for the naked,
    • Hope,
    • Communion for the outcast,
    • Peace.

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.

Thanks be to God.
Amen.