By Rev. Dawn Holt Lauber
Daily Lectionary reading: Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 146:5-10, Luke 1:46b-55, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11
Selected passage for reflection: Isaiah 35:1-10
Isaiah 35:1-10 (NIV)
Joy of the Redeemed
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” 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. 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. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
The formidable jazz pianist and composer, Dave Brubeck, has a lovely setting of Isaiah 35. When I sang his song for the first time, I truly began to understand the depth of this passage. Brubeck’s musical conception of Isaiah’s words exquisitely captures the state of the Israelites traveling home from exile. They have felt the weight, despair, and vulnerability of their captivity in their very bones.
In Brubeck’s composition, for soprano and piano, the opening phrase is haunting, mostly mournful, with glimpses of hope. We immediately recognize that the singer has returned from a weary, broken place and is experiencing her first vision of the change in landscape - once dry and barren, now green and flourishing. At first, the vocal line descends or remains in mid-range. “The desert and the parched land will exalt. The step will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with a joyful song.” As I learned this song, I imagined the singer responding to her first view of the promised land with restraint and awe. The years of oppression have worn her down and she only barely lifts her eyes to the horizon. Then the soprano line begins to ascend, “They will see” (higher) the glory of the Lord (higher) the splendor of our God!” Her singing soars over her as she rejoices in the Lord’s faithfulness.
Then the melody makes an even more pronounced turn, from a minor to a major tonality. “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak.” Back to the haunting plea of the opening phrase - “Say to those whose hearts are frightened” – and then ascending again: “Fear not” (higher). “Be strong” (higher). “Here is your God.”
I serve as a chaplain in a senior living community so the images in these verses of physical weakness and loss are especially poignant. On a daily basis, the chaplains help their residents find spiritual hope even as they confront feeble hands and unsteady knees, eyes and ears that no longer function as well as they once did, fearful hearts and anxious thoughts. “God is with us. We are not alone.” This is the theme of just about everything I preach in my chaplain ministry. Any glimpse of hope resonates with our residents. They desperately need to hear the promise of streams in the desert. And I need to hear them. These are words that have seen me through weary, barren lands too – where sorrows and sighs flee in the face of gushing waters and bubbling springs.
Brubeck ends his song by returning again to that glorious ascending and affirming line: “We shall sing with joy ere lasting. Fear not (higher). Be strong (higher). Here is your God!”
Reflect on the goodness and faithfulness of God in your life story. Take some time this Advent season to reflect on the barren and weary places, and the places where water gushed forth in the wilderness and the burning sand of life became a calming pool.
Holy God - Give us ears to hear your promises of hope. Give us eyes to rejoice in the wonders of your beauty. Lead us by your Holy Spirit in the Way of Holiness and welcome the love and mercy of Jesus Christ into our lives. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
About the Author
Rev. Dawn Holt Lauber is an ordained minister with the Evangelical Covenant Church. She has served in several pastoral positions, most recently as Lead Chaplain for Independent Residents at Covenant Living of Windsor Park (Carol Stream, IL) and Worship Pastor for the Northbrook Covenant Church. A professional musician, Dawn enjoys leading jazz vespers services, including the sacred music of Dave Brubeck.