Flowers Preaching in the Desert – Isaiah 35:1-10
[See Part One: Jesus, Are You the One? Matthew 11:3]
Jesus quotes Isaiah 35:5-6 for John in response to his question, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Isaiah 35:5-6 contains one of the most hopeful and poetic verses in that prophetic book:
“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.”
Jesus knows that John will understand exactly what he is saying when he sends the disciples back with that quote.
Isaiah gives us a bouquet of images to describe the indescribable joy that comes when you know that despite the horrors around us, God is still paying attention. God has never stopped caring. God continues to be at work in ways we cannot always see – unless we’re paying attention. Paying close enough attention to find flowers in the desert.
This love and care of God is what Isaiah describes in this passage for a people who have suffered through exile, enslavement, children dying, women raped, the land burnt raw and poisoned. Using poetry and metaphor, he describes streams flowing in a parched land, dangerous places becoming safe, and the predators banished forever.
This is not some pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by empty words we’re talking about here.
Isaiah’s poetry is about justice for the oppressed, rescue for those who cannot rescue themselves. It is about seeing God at work in ways that are surprising and beautiful in order to create a different and better world in the midst of the one of that is crumbling down around us.
When John reads these words, he is assured.
Yes, Jesus is the one. There is no need to wait for another.
Our job as Christians is to recall and repeat these words of Jesus. Our job as people of faith is to point out those signs of God’s presence and action in the world, especially when the prison doors have slammed shut and the cold dirt floor makes you shiver to the bone. Especially when you’re in the midst of the “bleak midwinter” where the earth stands “hard as iron, water like a stone.” When you’re trudging through the grey frozen slush, “snow on snow on snow,” and you see no sign of life (“In the Bleak Midwinter,” Christina G. Rosseti).
But then, there, you do see it! Reaching out of the snow with delicate hands cupped in prayer is the tiny purple crocus. “It came, a flow’r so bright, amid the cold of winter, when half-spent was the night.” (“Lo, How a Rose”).
This fragile yet tenacious flower is preaching to you!
“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.’”
You see, Creation – mirroring the Creator – has its own rhythms; it will happen when it’s going to happen. We cannot control it. But our job is to point to it. To speak poetry in the desert. To declare that the flowers are blooming, the streams are flowing, and hope is not lost.
So I ask you, where are the crocuses blooming right now?
Where is the water flowing in the desert? Where is the highway, the Holy Way, that is for God’s people?
Stay tuned for Part Three: Crocuses, Water Jugs, and the Holy Way – Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11
Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky. She is the author of Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), and Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).