Those are the words I am most familiar with from our passage today because with any luck I have an opportunity or two to sing them each holiday season. Because of that, I tend to think of them as a stand-alone prophecy, but they are not. They are part of a long litany of transformation through faith:
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.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,*
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,*
but it shall be for God’s people;*
no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
I know now that the glories of the transformation foretold by Isaiah can really only be understood when you have seen the land for which they are foretold…after spending days on a bus driving through the deserts of Israel and Judah the idea that the crocuses will bloom and the waters break forth, well, the contrast means more. It means more when you have turned a corner from dry, barren rocks and seen the Jordan river flowing ahead of you with its little stripe of green fertility growing along its banks; it means more when you have gone from dry hills to the lush green that surrounds the waters at Dan.
And it means more when you have been through a year like I have this year. Whoever actually wrote down these words of Isaiah, I thank you. I thank you because each year at this time when I am tired and cranky and just want this season to gone and done for another year, I get the chance to read you (or sing you) and remember the glory that is already hear, if, like the blind, I just let my eyes be opened. I am transformed like the desert, if I will but know it. I have joy and gladness, if I will but embrace it.