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"'Y' Joy?"

Dec.15/13 3rd of Advent Is.35:1-10 (Mt.11:2-11)


On this third Sunday of Advent, also known as "Joy" Sunday, to be honest - some of us may come with circumstances and attitude that don't lend themselves to rejoicing. Perhaps we find it easier to relate to Ebenezer Scrooge than to his upbeat nephew Fred in this excerpt from Dickens' A Christmas Carol:

"A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!" cried a cheerful voice.It was the voice of Scrooge's nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

"Bah!" said Scrooge, "Humbug!"

He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge's, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.

"Christmas a humbug, uncle!" said Scrooge's nephew. "You don't mean that, I am sure."

"I do," said Scrooge. "Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough."

"Come, then," returned the nephew gaily."What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough."

Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said "Bah!" again; and followed it up with "Humbug."

[all together now, with feeling: BAH! HUMBUG!]

OK now - whose side do you find yourself on? Cheery poor nephew Fred's, or dismal rich Uncle Ebenezer? Do you find yourself more prone at this point to say, "Bah, Humbug!" or "Merry Christmas"?

Isaiah's prophecy with which he closes the first section of his book (chapters 36-39 are an historical interlude) sounds like merry nephew Fred. There are about 8 references to "joy" or synonyms: v1 'the parched land will be glad'; 'the wilderness will rejoice'; v2 'it will rejoice greatly' and 'shout for joy'; v6 'then will ...the mute tongue shout for joy'; v10 'they will enter Zion with singing'; 'everlasting joy will crown their heads'; and, 'gladness and joy will overtake them'. This is a very upbeat, positive passage - it wants to cheer you up, like insistent nephew Fred.

It's a remarkable passage when put in context. The circumstances of Judah at the time would have been more likely to prompt one to say, "Bah, Humbug!" You may recall about thirty years earlier the Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. Then in 701 BC they returned and conquered all of the southern kingdom of Judah, right up to the gates of Jerusalem. Devastation was everywhere. Flip back a couple of chapters to Isaiah 33:7-9 for a better description of what it was actually like around this time period for Isaiah's countrymen: "Look, their brave men cry aloud in the streets; the envoys of peace weep bitterly.The highways are deserted, no travelers are on the roads.The treaty is broken, its witnesses are despised, no one is respected.The land mourns and wastes away, Lebanon is ashamed and withers; Sharon is like the Arabah, and Bashan and Carmel drop their leaves." This is particularly noteworthy because those were the most fertile parts of the land: Lebanon with its forests; the plain of Sharon between the Mediterranean and the central mountains of Palestine, drinking up the rains in the lea of the sea as the warm moist air of the prevailing westerlies rose and condensed; and the area around Mount Carmel to the north, literally 'garden-land' on account of its fertility. But the whole country had been shattered and stripped by the invaders.

As you come to worship today, are there factors in your life that make it difficult to rejoice? Where do you secretly hope the Lord will start His work of transformation?

V3 mentions "feeble hands...knees that give way': how are you feeble, worn out, tired? Are you rushing around working and decorating and buying presents and wrapping presents and going to family get-togethers and going to seasonal parties? It's wearing!

V4 talks about "fearful / anxious hearts": What's weighing on your heart? What's the worst thing about this month this year? Is there something that has you scared - you're not feeling quite right, an upcoming doctor's appointment or test, or just wondering how you're going to pay for all this stuff you've been buying? What's making you fearful?

V5 lists several physical disabilities - blind, deaf, lame, mute; what's silencing you, making you feel unheard or insignificant? Are you kicking yourself or secretly mad at your Creator because you don't look like a fashion show model? Is there a nagging cough or stubborn ailment you just can't seem to shake that's dragging you down?

Vv6b-7 reflect their dry, moisture-dependent Palestinian context with words like "wilderness, desert, burning sand, thirsty ground." Are you feeling isolated relationally, like nobody cares and you might as well be far away in a wilderness? Has your spiritual life become dry as a desert, you're just going through the motions in your prayer life but there doesn't seem to be anybody at the other end of the line? Are you feeling "burned" because somebody you trusted let you down? Would you say you're thirsty for meaning, you need some new direction and re-purposing in your life?

V7 talks about "the haunts where jackals once lay." Jackals is but a guess! KJV has "habitation of dragons" (Heb.tanniyn - dragon, serpent, sea monster); modern translators may translate "jackals" in places where "monsters" or "dinosaurs" would work as well. NET Bible translates it "jackals" 10 times but "monsters" 5 times. Reminds me of when we were in Congo in 1981 and an expedition went up north to Lake Tele to try to document the elusive Mokele-mbembe. Archeologists have found cave drawings of people riding dinosaurs and riverbed footprints of people near dinosaurs; why couldn't ancient scripture be talking about dinosaurs? What dragons or jackals or monsters are you facing? Is it an upcoming tense family confrontation at a seasonal gathering? Is it a root canal? What's got you shaking in your boots?

V10b mentions "sorrow and sighing". What tinges this year's holiday with sadness? Someone going to be missing due to a breakup or death? What's got you groaning, mourning, sighing because there's nothing you can do to change the situation around?

For me, this Christmas is going to be different because it's the first year I'm down to 1 brother instead of 2. Recently I attended the "Blue Christmas" event hosted by Huron Hospice Volunteer Service. A pamphlet called "I can't face the holidays" sums up some sentiments those grieving may feel at this time of year: "Everywhere we go, there are reminders 'tis the season to be jolly'.Christmas music fills the air.The stores are filled with people shopping for the special person in their lives...And then you are caught off-guard when you spot the perfect gift for your loved one and remember he or she is gone." Or some might say to themselves: "If only there were a way to miss Christmas completely this year." "Everyone expects me to carry on as if nothing has happened this past year." Or: "I feel guilty because I went to a party last night and had a good time."

Wherever we find ourselves - even if we're more inclined to say "Bah, Humbug!" this year for some reason - Isaiah prophecies 7 reasons ending in the letter "y" about "Y" those who trust in God can be joyful even in such circumstances.


The first reason to rejoice that ends in "y" is SAFETY. V4 lists three times as if in a dramatic rising cadence, "Be strong, do not fear, your God will come, He will come with vengeance...He will come" - to do WHAT? Why is He coming? "To SAVE you." Heb.ya-sha', to save / deliver / rescue; same root as Jesus' name in hebrew, Yeshua. When the angel told Joseph to give Mary's baby boy that name, what was the explanation? Mt 1:21 "You are to give Him the name Jesus (Yeshua) BECAUSE He will SAVE His people from their sins." How often do you hear sins talked about this season? You'll hear lots about Santa, and sleighs, and stockings, maybe even a star, but you have to listen very hard to hear anything about sins. Yet to save us from those is why Jesus came. Peter and John stated in Acts 4:12, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." We're talking about ETERNAL safety here! That's a major reason to rejoice.

Second, ABILITY. Vv5-6a talk about a range of physical healing: "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." Have you experienced healing this past year, physical or emotional? Praise God! You could be dead! I serve part-time as chaplain at Wingham Hospital, and I'd have to say that, on the whole, the vast majority of patients are discharged alive rather than to the care of the funeral director. God's designed our bodies to heal wonderfully. And today we've got the benefit of antibiotics. In the Bible, one of the anticipated signs of Messiah's coming would be miracles of healing. In Matthew 11(2-6) when Jesus is asked by John for His credentials, Christ points to the miracles which were occurring right before eyewitnesses: "Jesus replied, 'Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.'"

God blesses with ability those who look to Him. You may have heard in the news about Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel. In September her political party obtained their highest support in 20 years (41.5%). A quiet former research scientist, she's considered Europe's most powerful leader. Did you know she's a pastor's daughter, and a believer? Her faith in Christ helps her remain calm in pressure-cooker situations. She has said, "I am a member of the evangelical church...I find it very liberating that one can make mistakes as a Christian, you know, that there is something higher than man...[Christians] are also called upon to shape the world in responsibility for others.This is a part of my life that I find very important." God has given Chancellor Merkel definite ability!

Third, the Lord is our SUPPLY. Vv6-7a use the imagery of water - so vital in the Middle East - to illustrate God's supply: "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." Early on in Israel's history, shortly after the freed slaves left Egypt while they were wandering through the desert, God demonstrated He could bring water from a rock to supply their need (Exodus 17:6). Jesus picked up on that imagery to describe the effect He has in a person's life: John 7:37f, "Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."" And to the Samaritan woman who came to draw water from an ordinary well Jesus said, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14) He will supply and satisfy your deepest personal spiritual thirst.


Another "Y" to rejoice is HIGHWAY. Recall that passage two chapters before in 33:9, "The highways are deserted, no travelers are on the roads." Just too dangerous with those Assyrian troops around, or robbers, a breakdown of social order. Perhaps your conscience is attacked by guilt. Perhaps your circumstances have you feeling hemmed-in, limited, pressured, or just plain stuck. God offers you a way ahead! V8 "And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it." A highway, the Way, that Way; v10 adds that the Lord's redeemed ones "will enter Zion with singing..." Zion here represents the place where God dwells or is "at home with" His people.

Does Jesus have anything to do with a Highway? He's the 401 to the Father! Jn 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life.No one comes to the Father except through me." Paul elaborates in Ephesians 2:14-15,18: "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations...For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." Jesus has made a way through racism, and a way to our Heavenly Father, bulldozing barriers so by faith we can enjoy direct access.

He transforms us to be HOLY. V8 "[the highway] will be called the Way of Holiness." The word means holy, sacred, set apart. Note who's not allowed on that highway (v8 continues) "The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it." Not for the unclean, the 'evil-minded' (NLT) or impure; or for 'wicked fools', wayfarers, those who go astray. Paul writes to Titus, "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us..." End result? "So that those who have trusted in Christ may be careful to devoted themselves to doing what is good." (Titus 3:3,8) From wicked fools to living in holiness, 'devoted' or set-apart to doing good.


Have you seen any old westerns where outlaws are causing trouble, then a DEPUTY gets appointed and cleans up the town, making it safe? God provides us with a deputy to deal with troublemakers. V4 "...your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." That's talking tough - payback time! Dealing with enemies. Unrepentant humans along with Satan's forces of evil will get what they deserve. Romans 2(8f), "But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil..."

And, last, we can have great joy because God has given us a PROXY - a substitute for sinners, the innocent Son of God who took our place on the cross. Vv9-10 "But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return." These are terms involving payment: to redeem is to 'buy back'; to ransom is to pay a price for someone's release. How did Jesus some up His purpose in coming to earth? "...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."" (Mt 20:28) Paul wrote of this 'proxy-ness', "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us..." (Ga 3:13) He said Jesus "gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." (Tit 2:14) And the apostle Peter adds, "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1Pe 1:18f)


We can have great joy because Jesus gave himself in our place as a sacrifice to satisfy justice required by God's holiness. He voluntarily became captive to the penalty of our sin so we could go free.

In October the movie Captain Phillips was released, starring Tom Hanks. It's based on a true story in which Somali pirates attempted to capture a merchant ship MV Maersk Alabama back in 2009. In an attempt to outsmart the invaders, the crew of the ship succeeded in capturing the pirates' leader. But the pirates, armed with automatic rifles, demanded to have Captain Phillips as an exchange in an attempt to escape. However they didn't keep their part of the bargain in the exchange: Phillips recalls, "The leader came down, got in the boat, and then they didn't exchange me." For 3 days Phillips was held hostage in a lifeboat from the ship with the pirates. Finally Navy SEALS managed to free Phillips after shooting some of the pirates.

The captain recalls praying to God during his time in captivity: "I prayed for strength, that God would work, that God will let me have the strength to continue and know when to escape, and patience to wait for that time...There is power in prayer and it did help me."

May the Lord help you through your "Bah! Humbug!" moments this season to instead rejoice in Jesus our Captain becoming our exchange, securing our release, freeing us from sin's wages. Let's pray.