This week’s Advent theme is the promise of joy. If you really think about it, there truly is nothing in this world that can give you lasting joy. Things and money can bring temporary happiness, but it will surely fade. Even people, the ones you love most, will let you down and hurt you from time to time because they’re human and make mistakes. How can we look to Christmas for a lasting kind of joy, in a world where joy is so fleeting?
As a prophet, Isaiah communicated God’s messages to Israel. Some of these God-given messages were of impending judgement - Israel was becoming like the wicked nations around them, and if they didn’t turn from their unrighteous ways, the protection and provision God promised Israel would turn to punishment (which was a part of the Mosaic Covenantal agreement, Israel was to obey God’s commands to receive His blessing). But if this punishment happened (which it did, in their exile to Babylon), there were also messages of salvation. God would not let Israel stay in exile and promised to save them from their disastrous, scary situation as captive in enemy Babylon. One of these promises of salvation is found in Isaiah 35:1-7, and gives an absolutely beautiful picture of salvation:
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
The pictures of death, struggle, danger (desert, wildernerness) will transform to new life. Weakness and disability will turn to strength. Israel was told to not fear, because God has their back, He will come and He will save. And to read of the blind gaining sight, the deaf being to hear, the lame being able to walk — what type of emotions do you think those who are saved and healed may experience? Joy? Unbelievable joy? I think so… So what were they to expect? Was Israel to do something? What will this look like? Isaiah continues, 35:8-10:
And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
There is a way, that only the righteous will walk — it is not for the unclean, wicked, or unrighteous. But those who are redeemed and follow this “Way of Holiness,” will receive “everlasting joy.” Lasting joy in a world where joy fades so quickly, that’s what we’re searching for, right? So what is this “Way” that Isaiah was referring to? One final verse to round it all all… John 14:1-6, starts with Jesus talking, and He says,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
To follow the “Way” that Isaiah spoke of, is to follow Jesus! He IS the way to eternal, everlasting joy. Christmas is, of course, so much more than receiving temporary happiness from gifts under a tree — it’s God giving the greatest gift of all, which includes the only way we could ever find joy that will never fade. Even when things are hard in this life, we can still have joy in Jesus — knowing His perfect life, sacrificial death, and miraculous resurrection has saved our souls for all eternity - restoring relationship with our Maker, leading us to His Kingdom where there is no more struggle, pain, or tears. But this lasting joy is for those who follow the Way, for those who trust Jesus, for those who lay down their own lives to live for Him, to love Him and all others with all we have. Are you looking for lasting joy? Find it only in the first Christmas gift, Jesus.