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December 11, 2022

The Sign of the New Creation

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: This Will Be a Sign for You Category: Biblical Scripture: Isaiah 35:1–10

The Third Sunday in Advent

December 11, 2022

Isaiah 35:1-10

 “The Sign of the New Creation”

Creation seems to be in a state of rebellion as more and more unusual weather phenomena are happening everywhere. Scientists and climatologists around the world are raising alarm bells, calling us to take action for the sake of our planet. Here in this country, in western states there is a multi-year drought that is affecting every facet of life. This drought is coupled together with the annual fire season that is starting earlier, lasting longer and more intense. In other areas, summer storms are becoming more severe, dumping enormous amounts of rain that cause catastrophic flooding. Winters are becoming noticeably warmer in many areas and summer heat is becoming more extreme. The hurricane season is producing more tropical depressions and hurricanes that devastate coastal areas, even as we saw this summer and fall. What we are experiencing here at home is happening all over the globe. It is a worldwide issue that that demands our attention. The signs are all there. What will we do? The word of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah in today’s Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 35:1-10) speaks of a new creation; a restoration where all things are made new again. “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…
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God”
(Isaiah 35:1-2). This is the sign that is before us today in this Advent season. Our preaching series for this Advent season is “This Will Be a Sign for You,” and today our focus is “The Sign of the New Creation.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake. 

God’s chosen people had experienced a terrible calamity with the fall of their nation, city and temple to the Babylonians beginning in 596 B.C. They became helpless exiles who were marched the 500+ miles from Jerusalem to Babylon, and became strangers in a strange land. Their way of life had been shattered, and they wondered where God was in all of this. But now the Lord spoke a word of hope to his people through the prophet Isaiah. No longer will they be exhausted exiles, fearful and uncertain. They will receive new hope because of their strong Deliverer, as the Lord himself says to them: “Behold, your God… He will come and save you” (Isaiah 35:4). All of creation – people as well as the natural world – will be transformed by God’s almighty power. The desert will blossom and rejoice. Waters will break forth in the wilderness and the burning sand will become a pool. The eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. The disabled will leap like a deer and the mute will sing for joy. These are the signs of the new creation that God promised to his people.

Imagine the disappointment when God’s people finally returned to Jerusalem beginning in 537 B.C., fully expecting to find everything restored and that new creation in place. But it didn’t happen that way. Instead, they had to rebuild new lives from the rubble and debris that was still there from when they left years before. In our own lives today we can also experience disappointment when we expect God to step into our situations that cause us distress, heartache and fear. We pray for God to transform these situations. We want God to intervene, but we want him to do so according to our way of thinking, according to our timeline and expectations, and we become confused, frustrated and angry when that doesn’t happen. Then as now, this doesn’t mean God doesn’t care. It does mean that God is doing something even greater and far more expansive than anything we could possibly imagine. Isaiah’s prophetic words would find their fulfillment in that One to whom John the Baptist sent word from his prison cell.

John had been sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, and he was now in prison because of that. We may wonder, “Didn’t he know that Jesus was that promised Messiah? After all, he himself had baptized Jesus” (Matthew 3:13-17). But John was only human, and the loneliness and fear from being in prison may have caused him to need reassurance. And so he sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus straight up: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). Are you the real deal or not? Are you the promised Messiah or not? Jesus’ reply, not just with his words but with the deeds he has done, connect the dots between the promise made in Isaiah 35 and the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus himself: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:4-6). Jesus’ earthly life and ministry fulfilled all that was written of him in the Law and the Prophets. In Jesus, the kingdom of God with its endless life and light has broken into our sin-shattered world. In Jesus, there is healing, mercy, forgiveness, and new life, and all this has come about through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who took upon himself all our sins and iniquities, our griefs and sorrows (see Isaiah 53). In the death of Jesus we have been given new life. The sign of the cross is the sign of the new creation.

Still, we struggle to see that new creation in the midst of a world that seems to be going from bad to worse. Corruption, greed, rage, selfishness all seem to have the upper hand. Where is that new creation Jesus came to bring? In today’s Epistle lesson (James 5:7-11), we see the word “patient” or “patience” used four times in these short verses. This means we should pay attention to what is being said. Most of us struggle with being patient; we don’t like to wait and often see this as wasted time. But isn’t Advent all about waiting? We are called to patient waiting for the fulfillment of what Jesus began with his first advent. We are called to patient waiting for Jesus to come again at his second advent. We are called to patient waiting for the full revelation of that new creation that is yet to be revealed. In his first advent, Jesus gave us a foretaste of what is to come when he opened the eyes of the blind, made the lame to walk, healed lepers, made the deaf to hear, raised the dead, and brought the good news of forgiveness, life and salvation to the world. And now we wait for the glorious day when that sign will become blessed reality; when we no longer walk by faith, but by sight. And how we look forward to this, when Isaiah’s words will be fulfilled: Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy,
 and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10).

Fellow travelers on this Advent road, until the sign of the new creation is fulfilled, our calling is to do what the Lord spoke through Isaiah: Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 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’” (Isaiah 35:3-4). Amen.