Lighted evergreen boughs line the pedestrian bridge in Trinity Church

Five Ways Into Sunday’s Scripture: The Holy Way

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…
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 traveler, 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.

Isaiah 35:1–10

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receives their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Matthew 11:2–11

In this week’s Old Testament passage, the prophet Isaiah envisions a new world. The wilderness — the dry and barren land where the Israelites once wandered — is reborn into paradise. Eden returns, as crocuses bloom, forests proliferate, and a new highway, a “Holy Way,” is forged in desert sands. God promises that those who have been in exile “shall return,” and that “everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.”

Such a vision can be hard to conjure when the world around us is so broken. We know and experience suffering all around us, often within our deepest selves. Seasons of spiritual dryness keep us from sensing God’s presence. It can be difficult to believe that God is already remaking the world into a place where “sorrow and sighing flee.”

In Jesus’s own time, people were just as wary of utopian visions. John the Baptist surely knew the words of Isaiah, but his faith must have been tested — sitting as he was in a prison cell and hearing about the works of Jesus.

In this week’s Gospel, John sends word to ask Jesus if he is “the one who is to come.” “Are you the Messiah we have hoped for,” John is asking, the one who will restore the world from a place of rampant suffering to a place of joy?

Jesus does not answer John directly. Instead, he tells John that there is healing — the blind can see and the deaf can hear — and that, indeed, death itself is on its way out. “The dead are raised,” Jesus says, “and the poor have good news.”

Into a world of lament, Jesus has come, living among us, and bearing the suffering with us. This is, in fact, the essence of Christmas.

The incarnation means that God in Jesus descends into the wilderness of this world — a place of sighs and sorrows — and inaugurates a new creation where the desert of death can begin to team with new life. Jesus paves the way — the Holy Way — with every act of healing, each word of kindness. He is indeed “the one to come,” and he is already here.

—Summerlee Staten

Vincent Williams at Curating Theology considers the theologian Katherine Sonderegger and the ways in which the renewal of creation is central to her thinking about who God is.

Victoria Emily Jones writes about the artwork of Josh Tiessen and how he envisions a new creation that encompasses freedom for the animal kingdom, as well as for humans.

In line with Isaiah, the poet Marion McCready exclaims, “Thank God when the final curtain falls it is made of crocuses.”

The art of Agnes Pelton envisioned the desert as places where new life and beauty could bloom unexpectedly.

Winchester Cathedral Choir performs Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s “The Wilderness.” 

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December 18 | 11am–1pm
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Decorate gingerbread houses in a festive workshop hosted by the Children and Families Education Subcommittee. Children in kindergarten–5th grade and their families are invited to fellowship together in the spirit of the Christmas holidays and meet friends new and old. Spots are limited.