Joy: Wholeness and A New Way

Isaiah 35:1-10

“The wilderness and the 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.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He 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 it shall be for God’s people;
no traveller, 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.”

Something leaps within me whenever I read this passage. When all is made right, creation and humanity, there is a physical expression of it – flowers in the desert, singing, and a travelling path free of dangers…I love the phrase, “no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.” That means EVEN I won’t get lost and wander off that road.

Frank Yamada says on Working Preacher:

This chapter, which began with the rejoicing in the desert (verses 1–2), ends appropriately with the returning exiles singing with joy as they return to their home (verse 10). The people’s grief and suffering, like the desert road on which they travel, has transformed. Their sorrow has become joy. Their mourning has turned into singing and rejoicing.

This passage emphasizes the radical nature of God’s work among humanity. When the LORD appears, strange and marvelous things happen. The wilderness becomes a flourishing path with streams of water flowing abundantly. Dangerous roads become secure paths upon which the redeemed can walk with assurance. The blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame not only walk but leap for joy. The exiles return home.

When God visits God’s people, there is only one appropriate response. All of creation and humanity are transformed at the appearance of their God, and all rejoice together and sing for joy. The LORD’s presence, whether characterized by a theophany or manifested through the mighty works done on behalf of God’s people, changes everything, quite literally.

This is the source of our wholeness – God among and with us. “Marvelous things happen,” in us and around us, and God makes a way for us that we never expected or saw until our eyes were opened by that gracious presence.