Our Old Testament lection this week finds itself in a seemingly odd place. The chapter before it (Isaiah 34) speaks of death, despair, and overall chaos. In this week’s lection, though, chapter 35 abruptly shouts out, “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.” The prophet then tells the commands of hope the he hears and tells us that God is here and that God will save us! The next few verses tell us what will come about because of those commands, and the chapter ends with telling us how life will be – people will travel down a highway of holiness leading to God’s city itself.
While placed toward the end of Proto-Isaiah, (chs 1-39), this chapter seems to fit better with Deutero-Isaiah (chs 40-55) because it proclaims hope in a similar manner. Isaiah 35:1-10 describes a desert gaining the glory of Lebanon and the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. Lebanon was known for its beautiful trees and forests. Carmel and Sharon were some of the most fertile spots around. Here in the desert, hope was happening.
Throughout the season of Advent, I have been focusing on “A Different Kind of Kingdom” for my sermon series. This passage fits perfectly with that theme. The hope of the Kingdom is found where one wouldn’t expect it. We just saw in the chapter before that the Lord is enraged with the nations and will destroy them. Their dead bodies will be thrown out and stink up the place! In fact, the mountains would be soaked in their blood. The sky will dissolve, stars will fall, animals will die, the whole place will burn, and it will become a wildland will chaos will dwell (ch. 34). Yet it is here, in the midst of destruction, that Isaiah boldly proclaims that the desert will be made glad. It is here in a landscape of despair that redemption is found and creation is being restored. The desert goes from chaos and death, to the glory of Lebanon and the majesty of Carmel and Sharon! No one expects to find life abounding here and that is why this week’s lection is perfectly placed. The Kingdom and its hope is found in the chaos; God breaks through and commands the people to give strength and not fear, for God will come. Indeed, the Lord is coming.
Thomas Keating says it like this: “The kingdom is most powerful where we least expect to find it and where we may not even want to find it.” No one wants to go to a blood soaked desert and proclaim “Do not fear!,” but that is exactly where we are called to. In the Kingdom we know that we have the hope of resurrection. It is for that reason that even a chaotic desert filled with death can be brought back to life. As is often the case, we can find God in the desert restoring it into a garden.
As God restores the land and turns the desert into a garden, we are invited to join the journey with God. We are invited to tell others of how the narrative of despair and desolation is being turned into a story of hope of joy! “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God” (v.4). Even a blood-soaked desert of death is not too far gone for God to find hope in it for redemption.
We are invited to walk this journey down the highway of holiness. On this journey we will see the blind eyes be opened, the deaf ears hear, the lame leaping, and the mute singing loudest praise. In our world today this may look more like a drug addict getting clean, a homeless mother finding shelter for her kids and herself, or a teenager that feels completely unwelcomed at home, finally finding a place to belong. It for those reasons we do not walk on this way alone. We call out to others to join us. “Here is God! Look at what the Lord is doing to this wasteland! A garden is springing up all around!” Our God is in the business of making life out of death. Revoking the power of death, God speaks life and hope into a desert. A desert that has been set aflame. A desert that has been the very host of death, can now be the embodiment of joy crying out and testifying to the power of resurrection for which our great God is so well known.
Isaiah 34 speaks of death and destruction. Isaiah 35 speaks of life, and hope, and joy, and holiness. Our God is in the business of resurrection. That is why that which was thought to be dead and despised is able to find new and abundant life in the Lord our God.
 Thomas Keating, Maninfesting God (New York: Lantern Books, 2005), 21.