Blossom in the Desert

Today’s reading is Isaiah 35:1-10Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Gaby.

Do you ever go through periods of feeling dry? Times when you don’t have fresh inspiration or joie de vive? Times when life seems a bit of a drag and you don’t really know what is the point?

Well there is a reason it’s called a dry time because water and moisture is associated with growth and blossoming as we see here in Isaiah 35Open Link in New Window.

Last week Sam talked about Hope for the world and how Isaiah 2Open Link in New Window showed glimmers of it and this week we see that hope fulfilled.

Chapter 35 is a mirror image of Chapter 34 according to commentary writer Oswalt. Even the generational desolation can be transformed by God if we let him. Isaiah 34Open Link in New Window talks of the judgement to the nations and justice being restored, the deterioration of the strong holds in Edom. Isaiah is prophesying bad things for their enemies in Edom and good things for God’s people. Isaiah 34Open Link in New Window paints a bleak picture of judgement of God’s enemies, those who have oppressed Isaiah’s people but in Isaiah 35Open Link in New Window it’s as if the sun breaks through the clouds. In Isaiah 35Open Link in New Window we read a sense of hope for the future. The future as it will be. God’s glorious future.

In the Bible dryness is often seen as a curse, linked with barrenness of the land. For the people in Bible times water was an amazing blessing because they lived in hot climates. All their desert wanderings were based around wells and water supplies. There are echoes of the Exodus in this passage and one of the greatest needs that Moses had for his people as they went through the wilderness was sources of water to keep them alive and God provided miraculously twice with water coming from a rock when Moses bashed it with his stick and when he was supposed to speak to the rock but bashed it instead.

In verse one we see the promise to Isaiah’s people that the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad and the desert rejoice and blossom like the crocus.

This is real miracles being promised here because deserts do not blossom.

I used to live in Tenerife which is a very dry and arid land and I know from experience that the desert doesn’t spontaneously break into blossom very often. Dry land has to be cultivated, it has to be irrigated, watered and tended carefully to produce blossom and fruit. Also there are sometimes patches of life that grow up but this is not the normal. I remember once a tomato plant grew up in our compost heap where there had obviously been some tomato seeds discarded but that was something to note not the every day experience of the warm climate.

In Tenerife they had worked really hard to produce lush golf courses out of the desert for a higher class tourist industry to bring money to what had been a fairly poor island whose main trade had been bananas and fishing.

One of the most beautiful sights in Tenerife was when the bougainvillea blossomed. This helps us to understand the joy and praise that we see in Isaiah 1Open Link in New Window when the desert is seen to rejoice with singing. I also felt like singing when I saw the abundance of the bougainvillea.

Isaiah is promising blossom not of Bougainvillea but of crocus.

As many of you gardeners will know…

Crocus flowers lead the way for other spring bloomers to follow. They bloom bright and early, bringing much needed colour after a long winter. These small-but-mighty plants with their colourful blooms and sweet fragrance lure hungry bees out of their hives. Crocus plants will multiply and come back year after year, bringing more blooms with them each time.

https://www.gardendesign.com/flowers/crocus.html

The specific image that Isaiah uses is of blossom that increases year upon year. Verse 2 says they say see the glory of the Lord… that’s the thing about blossoming it’s very obvious, you can’t miss it. In this passage we see Isaiah prophesying that where their land had become desolate it would bloom again and there is an obvious parallel with God’s land in those days and the restoration of the kingdom.

I don’t know about you but as it’s started to get cold and Lockdown Christmas looks frankly quite difficult with loneliness abounding. Filling my mind with images of Bougainvillea is a gentle respite. It reminds us that despite the winter we are in spring is always around the corner.

Isaiah uses these images to encourage his people in verse 3 and 4. Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees. Sean and I go running regularly and one of the biggest issues for runners is knee problems. We often jokingly pray about strengthening our feeble knees but actually the point is key. To be able to walk any distance you need strong knees, and Isaiah’s imploring people to pull themselves together, get their strength up and why?

Because God will come with vengeance and will save them. They are going to be saved from their enemies, their enemies are God’s enemies. I wonder what your enemy is at the moment? Is it your own sense of hopelessness about the future? Is it job loss or income loss or money worries at this time? Is it loneliness and isolation or perhaps being separated from those that you love? What is it that you need to strengthen your hands and make firm your knees for? Because we are promised here that God will come and save us.

When God steps in to save us what happens?

Verse 5, the eyes of the blind will be open and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Verse 6 the lame man will leap like a deer and mute people will sing and for why?

Because the waters have broken forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.

Do these verses remind you of anyone? Blind eyes open, deaf ears open, lame leaping, mute speaking? It’s Jesus isn’t it? When God steps in to save us we see Jesus, we see miracles. In these times we live in when we see miracles happen like this we talk about the kingdom of God coming to earth, it’s a connection with God. My sister recently prayed for someone who was deaf in one ear and their ear was opened. Whenever we pray for people to get better we are hoping for healing miracles, not just that they would get better at the usual and expected rate of recovery but that God would heal them quicker than if we hadn’t prayed. Perhaps in zoom coffee today we can use this opportunity to pray for the sick. In our church we have people like Tony in recovery and others. God will save us and bring waters forth from the desert.

Where is the desert in your life? Where are you dry and long to see God pour his living water out? It’s Jesus again we see who came with living water for us.

And Isaiah promises a highway.

If you picture what the roads might have looked like in those days, dangerous places where you were vulnerable to attack because everyone took those same roads, roads through the wilderness where you dare not stray off the path because of the wild animals. This is in verse 8 God promises through Isaiah a Highway of Holiness, a safe path for all who walk in the way i.e. the way of God, there will be no beasts to endanger your life but God’s people the redeemed and the ransomed shall be able to walk their safely and come to Zion with singing. For us the danger of open roads is not one we worry about much. We have street lighting, some of us have cars, we have access to buses and the only lions in Bristol are safely locked up in the zoo. Roads are not especially dangerous places for us as they were in those days so perhaps picture it more as a safe path through a war zone. This highway is a safe crossing for God’s people, the only other people on this path are more of God’s people. These people will have everlasting joy and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

This is an amazing picture of God’s people in Isaiah’s time, in Jesus’ time we can have this in our time and fourthly we can have this in the new creation when Jesus returns. This is the nature of prophetic writing because it speaks into all four contexts. This everlasting joy is something I want us to cling to today. I’m not sure that we can necessarily all claim to be joyful every moment but God’s restoration in our lives can mean that we can have joy. Ask God to restore your joy to you.

Oswalt says “God has come to us and day by day makes it possible for us to walk with him in greater and greater likeness to him until that last day when we arrive in the heavenly city where gladness will displace sorrow forever.” The joy can be for now but it is without a doubt for eternity when we live in the new creation with Jesus.

This passage has been seen God coming to his people and his people coming to him. We leave behind the slavery that we were into sin and we walk towards the freedom that God offers to us in Christ.

Isaiah 35Open Link in New Window invites us to reflect on this Advent season not only as God’s coming in Christ, but also as our coming home. God comes. God is here. We leap and shout and sing. And together we walk home.

Anathea Portier-Young

Challenge and prayer

Picture the barren dry areas of your life. How about we pray for living water to bring blossom and rejoicing in those areas?

The immediate future is uncertain BUT the bigger picture is that we have God with arms open ready to welcome us so let’s pray that God will strengthen our hands and make firm the feeble knees ready for us to receive him

Let’s pray for healing of the blind, deaf, dumb, lame and those that are afflicted to be free.

Isaiah 35Open Link in New Window puts us in mind of an Exodus for God’s people out of slavery. For some people you may feel trapped in the slavery of your own life, the routines that hold you down that you can’t escape from. This might be the routines of family life or something else. You can be free.

Please find someone to pray with you if any of these things are an issue for you. You can email the office and I or someone else will ring you or if you are a member of the church join us for zoom coffee and we would love to pray for you. We all know this is a hard time but no one has to go through it alone and if the voice in your head says different then that voice is telling a lie because there are people who care and would love to help if you are brave enough to ask.

There will be a video version of the service.

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