Streams in the Desert – December 6, 2007
Isaiah 35:1-10, Luke 1:26-38
December 16, 2007
In the book of Isaiah we find the majority of the prophecies having to do with the coming of the Messiah. Sure, there are a lot of messianic prophecies scattered throughout the major and minor prophets. But Isaiah seems to have written about it the most. Isaiah seems to have had this vision.
I’d like us to consider this prophecy in the 35th chapter of Isaiah. By the way, this is a reading from the lectionary. That means those who compiled the lectionary recognized this being about the coming Messiah. So they put it in Advent. And I’m sure verses 5 ad 6 were seen as a description of what was going to happen when the Messiah would come. “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 tongue of the dumb sing for joy.” As we hear those words, we might even find ourselves remembering some of the healing stories of Jesus.
Now, at the same time, Isaiah also wrote a lot of prophecies that had to do with the people and nations of his time. He had a lot to say about the defeat, the exile, and particularly the restoration of Israel. And this 35th chapter actually comes from a section of Isaiah where he was dealing with the fate of Israel at that time. So here, along with the messianic references, we also find words of hope about the restoration of Israel after a time of great difficulty.
The reason say all of this, is that those two dimensions of Isaiah’s prophecy could be thought of in the same light. In fact, the prophecy of the Messiah was often associated with, or actually incorporated in, the prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel. People combined those two things in their minds. It’s no wonder in Jesus’ time the people were looking for the Messiah to come! They were under the oppression of Rome, and they wanted the restoration of their sovereignty as a nation! They wished for a political savior! They asked him, “Is this the time you will restore Israel?”
As we think about all that this morning, what I want us to see in this prophecy, is that this Messiah, this restoration by God, this New Covenant, is more than just a deliverance. This is God giving his abundance to his people. When the angel Gabriel visited Mary (one of a number of stops for him) he told her that her son would be given the throne of David. That was a huge thing! For those people, the reign of King David was considered to be the glory days of Israel. When they longed for restoration and sovereignty, they longed for a time when they would have “a king like unto David.” That was the ideal they looked to as true restoration and abundance. They didn’t just want freedom. They didn’t just want a king. They wanted a “king like unto David.” That’s what the angel promised Mary.
Abundance is what comes to my mind over and over again as read this chapter. So I’ve lifted out the second half of verse six. That’s our focus. After the part about the healing of the people, the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the dumb – things we would associate with the Messiah, Isaiah then describes the healing and restoration of the land. And he does so by saying that in that time, “…waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.”
Now, do you think those words would have caused the people to think about another time when waters “broke forth in the wilderness?” How about that time after the Exodus when the people were murmuring against Moses for bringing them out in the wilderness where there was no water! And there were more than 600,000 of them. And, as I’ve said before, this is one place where our mental picture might need to be “tweaked” a little! The water coming out of that rock – enough for 600,000 men, plus their women, children, and flocks and herds – would not have been some small stream flowing down nicely over some stones, like a garden fountain. This was a gushing flow of water, a dramatic “breaking forth” of a lot of water! Just imagine what that would have been like!
The second thing that comes to mind for me as I read this verse are the times I’ve had the privilege to be out to the desert in Arizona and New Mexico. Who has been there? What’s the one thing that’s missing there, that we might expect to find in a desert? Sand! The majority of deserts in the southwest are dirt and dust, but not sand. I was surprised to learn that.
The other thing that surprised me was the rivers. On the way in from the Phoenix airport that first time, we drove over a bridge. And a sign said the bridge went over the Agua Frio River. And guess what was missing there that you might expect to see in a river! Water! It was completely dry! However, I got to thinking, if somebody spent the time and money to build an actual bridge, there must be water there sometime! And I was right! I began to notice around the Phoenix area, enormous concrete channels beside the roads. I asked what they were, and I was told they were for the water. Because when it does rain, it’s like a deluge. They actually call their rains the “Monsoons.”
The other thing I need to tell you about the desert, is what happens when there is water. When it rains, the desert blooms! Cactus and other plants actually flower, and it’s unbelievable. Seeds that have been lying dormant spring up overnight. It’s been said that if you spit on the ground in the desert, something will grow! That was amazing to me! And I have to tell you, my whole mental image associated with this passage about “Streams in the desert” was dramatically changed after seeing it first hand! There is great abundance in the desert!
That’s the kind of abundance I think about when I read this passage about the restoration of Israel. And I want us to recognize how that metaphor of “Streams in the Desert” is being used by Isaiah to describe the kind of abundance in our lives that this Messiah – this baby in Bethlehem – represents! That’s what God wants for us!
I think we need to remember that during Advent season. Because sometimes our image of what God has done for us in sending this son of his, is too small. Sometimes we think only in terms of a baby in Bethlehem. That’s it. And granted, that’s beautiful, and I love that imagery. But it’s more than that. Sometimes when we think of what Jesus came to do, we think only in terms of payment for our sins. “Hey, if God says there’s sin in my life that has to be dealt with, and Jesus has dealt with it. Then, great!” But it’s so much more.
As God’s people we need to think Abundance. What Jesus came here to do is to offer us all of the fullness of God in a living, vibrant relationship with him. That’s what’s been offered to us in Christ. We are part of this metaphor of “Streams in the Desert.” Before we are touched by the living God, our lives are like that desert, devoid of water. And when the Messiah comes and touches our lives, so much abundance blooms forth!
And I’m not talking about “prosperity” like some of the popular preachers of our day. I’m talking about Abundance, and that’s different. Abundance is so much more. Abundance is the Peace, Love, Joy, and Hope we talk about in celebrating our Advent wreath. Do you have those things in your life? Do you have them in abundance? Are they overflowing in your soul? Are those things – peace, love, joy, and hope – like streams in the desert? And are they gushing waters breaking out in great quantities? Or are they just garden fountains?
Streams in the desert. That’s what we are to seek in this Advent and Christmas time. That’s what we look for in our Messiah. If we do, that’s what we will find.
Eternal God, we know that you sent your son so that we may have life and have it more abundantly. But we’re afraid that many times we are just squeaking by. Help us to find that abundance as we celebrate this time of year. Help us to know your abundance throughout our lives. For we pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.