What we hear from the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading seems especially pertinent as we enter the eighteenth month of very strange times for our world, our nation, and our church (both local and global). The pandemic and the polarizing effect it has had, worries about environment and climate, economic uncertainty and inequality, racial justice concerns, natural disasters, instability in places like Afghanistan, increasing stridency in politics, and even divisiveness in our church – all of these have, for many, induced a weariness and debilitating fear, and understandably so.
During Isaiah’s time Israel was in dire straits too. They were attacked by the Assyrians in the north, and even Jerusalem was surrounded by Sennacherib’s army. What Isaiah wrote in chapter 35 (the beginning of today’s reading) was this:
Thus says the LORD:
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
What we know that those of Isaiah’s time did not is that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. Most of those with Jesus when he walked the earth also did not recognize him as Messiah, as Savior. Happy are we who do! But from what is Jesus delivering us? Is it just assurance of escaping punishment for our sins? Of seeing our departed loved ones in the afterlife? Or is it the gospel of prosperity – if we just have enough faith then Jesus will deliver us from poverty and illness? I think it’s more than that. I think it’s the gift of knowing that Jesus – human like us in everything (including temptations) but sinless – walks with us, embraces us in all our frailties, and promises to be with us always.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
We hear of Jesus in the Gospels doing all of these things that Isaiah foretold. In today’s gospel he heals a man suffering deafness and muteness. In Advent, we refer to Jesus as Emmanuel which means “God with us”. It is Jesus, today, by our embrace of the mission he gives us at baptism to go out and preach the gospel to all, who fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy.