The Wait and the Journey

December 2023 editorial:

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 35:4 

The discipline and joy of waiting

Advent is of course the season of preparation for the celebration of Christmas, but more generally it’s remembering and practising that aspect of the Christian life, of waiting for God to intervene. We imagine first of all the people to whom Isaiah first spoke, oppressed by foreign powers, and at one point even in exile, hoping for restoration and return. We put ourselves in the shoes of the Old Testament saints, up to Simeon and Anna, waiting for “the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25), and we ourselves look forward to a promised future - “we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). In the meantime, we pray for our daily bread and other practical needs, and for the influence of God’s kingdom around us and in the wider world, often needing to be patient, and we wait for God to answer our prayers, to intervene in the present according to his will.

Fishermen spend hours getting the lines and the bait ready, then they cast into the water – and then…they wait. What are they doing? Perhaps some of them are not particularly goal oriented, they just like being out in the fresh air. But real fishermen are waiting for the fish to bite, to swallow the bait – and even then they wait…and then they strike at the right moment. They do not give up hope, but say to themselves, “if I wait long enough, the fish will bite and I will catch one”.

The same with the farmer or gardener, who  prepares the ground, sows the seeds, waters, and then waits. He knows that with attentive patience, he will get a harvest out of what was bare earth. The seed looks as if its dead and even once in the ground you have to wait for several days before you can even see evidence of life – and many weeks before the reward of the crop.

Seeds growing

Waiting with the right attitude

In Isaiah 35, the prophet is writing to a people who are tired, discouraged and afraid. He urges them to courage and fortitude, to physical action where previously they have been weak and unable to stand. The motivation is not from within, a kind of stoicism, but because of the promise of God coming to save them. The idea of God coming “with vengeance” is delayed, not negated, with the arrival of the baby in Bethlehem. The love and grace displayed in the nativity, and the judgement of the world yet to come, are part of the same plan, ministries of the same Saviour, which gives hope, and strengthens us in our weakness as we wait.

Pictures of what is coming

The prophet uses three main images for the radical and wonderful change that occur when God acts in power, and intervenes to display his rule. Firstly, water in the desert, bringing a beautiful change to the environment: flowers, bubbling streams and waterside plants cover the land which was previously parched and barren. Then, complete healing for the disabled. And then, a road for return and restoration.

This road is literally a “high-way”; raised above the ground. We might be familiar with the biblical call to “prepare the way for the Lord”, which we also find in Isaiah (40:3), and repeated by John the Baptist in his preaching. But here in Isaiah 35 the picture is not of a people making a raised highway for the coming of the king, but a road for the return of God’s people to their true homeland. It is the “Way of Holiness”, not available to the “unclean”, and protected from dangerous wild animals.

walk in woods

The road is for the redeemed, those who have been purchased from slavery, those who have been rescued by an amazing act of God. This calls to mind the Exodus from Egypt, the return from exile in Babylon, and for us as Christians, it’s a picture of the church. Not a static thing, but a group of people saved by grace from sin and death, for a life of holiness, on a journey.

Who is on the “way of holiness’ today?

The visible church has always been made up of those who are, invisibly and spiritually, on this road, and those who are not. It needs to be stated again and again that those on this road have not done anything to deserve it – they are not more respectable or less sinful – their position is entirely due to God’s grace. But a major problem occurs when church leaders, out of desire to be “inclusive”, declare as “clean” and “redeemed” and even publicly bless those whom Scripture says are excluded from this “way of holiness”, who have not repented of their sin and in fact are celebrating it. That is not the gospel of Isaiah or of Jesus and the New Testament. At this time we give thanks for Gafcon, and for the many leaders in our region of GB and Europe, who are clearly differentiating between this false ‘gospel’, and the true message of redemption and a glorious future.

Star in night sky

Because we live in a fallen world, at times it seems like we are in a barren desert; our courage fails; we think God is far off; we lose hope. Advent is a reminder of the seeming paradox: it is true that Jesus has come, he has saved us, we approach our destination with joy. But also, there are times when we need to patiently wait in times of difficulty, encouraged by the certainty that he will come again.


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