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.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
We lived in Big Lake, Texas. The dry West Texas dust deviled in the arid wind, and the air always smelled like oil. So did the water. The way I remember it, there was flat, barren ground as far as I could see. For a little kid, the grass was filled with "goathead" stickers, and the sun parched you crispy. How in the world did that place ever get called "Big Lake?" Maybe someone was joking when they chose the name.
But it's the memory of Big Lake that helps me understand the Bible's passages about the exile of the people of Israel. They had been dragged off to Babylon by conquering armies. The "promised land" didn't seem to hold much promise, and the only thing flowing was the tears of God's people as they longed for home. Disobedient and dispossessed, Israel need only look outside to be reminded that they were exiles in a foreign place. The wilderness had swallowed them whole.
But God is a covenant-keeping God, and the prophet Isaiah, who had thundered God's judgment like a courtroom prosecutor, now had a glorious message of hope. God Himself would come to save them. God Himself! He would do it. He would come and avenge His people! The blind would see and the deaf would hear, and the desert wasteland of exile would be made lush by the power and glory of God. And there would be joy, and dancing, and springs of living water flowing across the burning sand.
Nearly 800 years later, a group of men who worked with John the Baptist went to ask Jesus if He was the long-awaited Messiah. Was He the rescuer? Was it time? And Jesus pointed those men to these words of Isaiah. Jesus restored the sight of the blind. Jesus told the lame man to take up his mat and walk. Jesus said that in Him, spiritual thirst was gone. The evidence was clear. God with us; Emmanuel had come.
But that message of hope and restoration was not just for those long-ago Israelites. And it was not just about Christ's first coming. For you see, we who are in Christ are also exiles. We also long for strength. We also endure the barrenness of a world held in bondage to decay. So the Christmas promises of Isaiah point our hearts not just to the memory of Jesus who has already come, but the prophet reminds us that we still journey on. We strain forward as the New Year dawns. And one day, we pray very soon, He will return! And we will, at last, be safely home.
Maybe this year.