An Advent Journey: Re-gifted for a Transformed Journey
The wilderness and 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. God will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. God 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 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.
Isaiah 35: 1-10
Transforming the way
Every day I go to work from Peekskill, N.Y., to New York City on a commuter train. Sometimes the train tracks encounter problem areas due to the weather. When that happens the commuters are given a brochure explaining the causes of the delay. There was a recent delay in October due to dead autumn leaves. The most significant learning of this experience for me is that in order to avoid derailing, the commuter train authorities dispatch what is known as “rail-wash trains” during autumn season to blast the leaves off the rail tracks with high-powered jets of water. Sometimes, they mix a soft alkaline solution with water that helps in breaking down leaf residue and thus reduce slipperiness on the tracks. No commuter is allowed to get into the rail-wash trains. They are preparatory vehicles to make way for the commuter trains carrying passengers.
Is not Advent all about making way for the birth of Jesus? A rail-wash train carries an Advent task: removing the accumulated slime and dirt. A rail-wash train blasts open a cleaner track for millions of people to travel safely.
A fool-proof highway and a greening effect
A key image in the Scripture passage for today is a “highway.” The One who blasts open a safe highway homeward is “our God.” God prepares this highway for God’s redeemed people. Prophet Isaiah speaks to all those who are returning from a long exile in Babylon. He says that God of the exiled people goes ahead of these returnees, and paves a way for them through an arid desert.
This God makes sure that there are enough provisions for their body and soul:
- Healing of their bodies;
- Healing of their weary spirit and soul;
- Greening of nature to delight their eyes;
- Water for the parched lips of the returning people; and
- Banks of streams to lay down their burdens and rest on their way home;
In short, God offers a transformed highway for God’s transformed people:
- From sickness to wellness of body and soul;
- From aridity of the land to the rejuvenation of the earth;
- From a state of exiled captivity to freedom as whole persons; and
- From the dangers of the wild beasts to the security of God’s Shalom;
This highway is even fool-proof. The naïve among God’s people will be educated with travel tips. They will be assured that God goes before them preparing their way for a safe journey home.
God’s redeemed and released people
The good news is that God is still in the business of buying back people from slavery and captivity, healing and restoring them on the highway homeward to God. God redeems God’s people with a ransom (Isaiah 35: 9-10). God’s redemption is both spiritual and physical.
God still runs intervention on behalf of the “least of these” who are under modern day captivity. God releases these people from economic, commercial and political bondages. You and I are called by God to: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come forth with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you,’” (Isaiah 35: 3-4).
All those who are made in God’s image, that is, all of us, are redeemable. God’s gospel train has removed the slime, the dirt, and all that blocks the Shalom-tracks. Let us ride the highway singing, the song of Shalom. Let us hear all the redeemed sing with resounding voices of joy. Let us make sure the tongues of the speechless sing for joy.
It is time to put the voices of the voiceless, the “least of these,” in the center in this God-ward journey. Shall we take time to hear the voices of the least of these who are journeying with us? I invite you to name all of them. Especially, I invite you, in particular to:
- Celebrate the achievements of the migrants in the midst of us.
- Highlight the struggles of the migrants here and around the world.
- Be ready by reading the Action Alert on “Migrants in the Globalized World” and implementing a recommended action plan.
- Promote and protect the rights of migrants here and worldwide, especially on December 18, the International Day of Migrants.
- Check the Radio website at www.radio1812.net, an initiative of the International Advocacy and Resource Center on the Human Rights of Migrant Workers.
Once again, let us bring our fresh witness to God’s word, capturing the sorrows and sighing of the migrants. Let us pray aloud:
Someone is crying, Lord. Kum ba yah.
Someone’s in bondage, Lord Kum ba yah.
Someone’s in sorrow, Lord, Kum ba yah.
Someone is sighing, Lord, Kum ba yah.
Someone needs ransom, Lord, Kum ba yah.
Alongside God, let us engage in the business of buying back people from bondage and slavery in the midst of us, here and worldwide. Let us walk with the ransomed on the highway.
*Glory Dharmaraj, Ph.D., is the director of spiritual formation and mission theology for the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.