Isa. 35:1-10 “The Joyous Gift of Wonder”

Let us pray: Merciful God, during this holy season prepare us in heart and mind, in soul and strength to love you with all we have and all we are. Come close to us in this hour. Speak to our deepest needs. Nurture those seeds of promise and goodness you have planted in our lives. Open our eyes to your presence, our ears to your voice, and our hearts to your compassionate love that we may be prepared once again for the miracle of heaven touching earth with hope, joy, and peace. Amen.

Christmas should be seen through the eyes of children. The anticipation, the magic, the wonder experienced by children at this time of the year recall within us what we once had but perhaps have lost and forgotten. 

I remember some of the wonder I experienced as a child at Christmas. My parents made the most of the season. The decorations, the smells, the tastes, the sounds, the anticipation, the generosity of my home over flowed. Joy seemed to ooze out of every nook and cranny. From the over-decorated tree laden with ornaments scarred and worn but too precious to discard because of memories associated with them to the creche with the baby Jesus who could be taken out of the manger and held in the palm of even a three-year-old’s hand, there was no doubt that it was Christmas time at the Zorn household. 

And as a child I drank in every scene, smell, taste, and memory. And in my mind’s eye, a web of wonder was spun all around the season. If you go to the house in which I grew up and look at the lower window panes at the front of the house in the living room, you will find teeth marks on the wooden frame of those windows. I put them there as a child waiting for Christmas. Each evening I would stare out into the night, looking for the angels and the reindeer and Santa. (I mixed my symbols back then–Christian and secular, but the magic of the season was still there.) One Christmas Eve as I bit hard into the wood of those window frames waiting with eager anticipation, I saw–I knew I saw–a sled pulled by tiny reindeer with Santa as the passenger. You couldn’t have convinced me otherwise if you tried. The imagination of a child is such a wondrous gift! 

But then we grow up. We become realistic–or even worse, bitter and cynical. Practicality and common sense rule the day and subdue the night. We have no time for magic and wonder–no time for imagination and dreams. Those are for children and the lazy, if not the insane. We are too grown up for such a childlike approach to life. And as a result of our limited approach to the world, we see no visions–we dream few dreams but suffer many nightmares–we feel not the stirring of angels’ wings. The sense of wonder that filled other times and places with awe, thanksgiving, and reverence has been replaced by the coldness of certitude and the treadmill of routine. 

I think it is important to see that God began the divine sojourn on earth in a tiny baby. We can only guess what kind of dreams and wonderment, what kind of imagination and discovery God experienced in the child Jesus. And we can only guess what impact all of that had on the message and the life of that Carpenter turned Rabbi as he was privy to God’s dreams and sought to give them flesh and blood. If God started the divine sojourn as a child, then perhaps it would be wise for us to start over as children. After all, Jesus said we can enter the Kingdom of God only as we become little children. 

During Advent, we can allow ourselves the liberty of becoming children again–to see once more with simple eyes, to learn to wonder and dream and imagine as the scales of predictability and the blinders of cold “reality” fall from our mind’s eye. It is only as we can wonder–only as we can dream that we shall find our way in this world and feel we are truly home. 

Now let’s be sure we know what kind of dreaming and wondering we are talking about. The wondering we so desperately need is not “positive visualizations” designed to realize our dreams of career success, financial stability, or even individual fulfilling relationships. We are not talking about dreaming to become a movie star, one of the rich and famous, a spectacular athlete, or even just plain happy. All of that hype, promoted in books and tapes with slick titles and offered in self-help seminars so popular today, has nothing to do with the kind of wondering and dreaming that have characterized God’s people and shaped faithful community. 

We are talking about dreaming and wondering that are in touch with who we were meant to be and who we shall become. We are talking about dreaming and wondering that float on the ocean of God’s desires for us. We are talking about dreaming and wondering that create genuine nobility, nurtures authentic joy, and draws us home with cords of love. We are talking about dreaming and wondering that embrace God’s vision of a blessed community shaped by peace and fulfillment, caring and healing. 

And that is the kind of wondering and dreaming we find in our text today from Isaiah 35. In beautiful poetry (and poetry is the language of God’s dreamers), the prophet sees creation and humanity in a collective experience of praise and worship, of joy and glory. Deserts flower and sing. Parched earth becomes gardens of beauty and testimonies of God’s goodness as waters flow and life germinates and sprouts. The eyes of the blind are opened, the ears of the deaf are unstopped, the lame leap like gazelles, the tongues of the mute sing like troubadours. And there shall be a highway named not Route 66 or I 69 but the Holy Way. And that highway will lead to God. Even fools will not lose their way as they walk with others toward the destination of God’s healing presence. And as this community of faith and redemption comprised of humanity and creation enters the city of God with singing, this is their blessing: “Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” 

Is there anything about this vision which resonates deeply within you, resurrecting yearnings and desires? Does this strike you as the prattling of weak minds or as the wishful thinking of the sentimental? Or do these words–these scenes of healing and mirth connect with longings too deep for words–prayers echoing somewhere within you where the Spirit still moves, hovering over the potential of your life and God’s world? Does this portrayal of God’s Peaceable Realm–of creation and humanity living in harmony and rejoicing–of blessed community where common goals for the good of all are the focus of divine and human energy–does any of this awaken within you a homesickness for what can be and for what you know in your heart of hearts is God’s dream for all of us? If so, then you are in touch with the Spirit–with the divine energy seeking to make God’s dreams flesh and blood reality. Increasingly I am convinced that much of the sterility of our culture –much of the emptiness–much of the desert in which we find ourselves panting for living waters is because of a failure of communal imagination, a lack of dreaming together with God and for creation what can be when harmony and peace, joy and love guide our paths and shape our collective destiny. 

God desires to see the divine dreams and heavenly wonderment become flesh and blood reality. That is in large part what Advent and Christmas are all about. And it is in Mary the mother of Jesus that we see God bringing to fruition these dreams. It was in Mary’s womb that the radical promise of a new creation shaped after God’s own heart was conceived, gestated, and born. Mary, part of sinful, fallen humanity, nevertheless entered into a wonderful conspiracy with God. She nurtured in her womb God’s dream for us and all creation. It is of Mary that a French Advent hymn dating from 1634 sang, “Let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior!” And in her obedience to conspire with God for the joyful healing and redemption of the world, we find a model for our own spiritual lives. 

As far as we know, we are the only life forms capable of reflection. We alone have the capacity for praise, wonder, and holy dreams. We are the only creatures that can imagine, and thus bring into being those promises waiting to blossom from the heart of God. Created in God’s image, we are the heart and mind of creation. We are the place where creation dreams. And we are the flesh and blood where those dreams can become reality. We are the creatures who can dream with God a tomorrow that is not a future shock or a nightmare but a benediction of peace, joy, and love for all creation. 

It is God’s desire to continue the Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas in us–within our hearts and in our midst–a fleshing out of hope and peace, of joy and love–a molding of a beloved community where all life is reverenced and no one is left behind–where creation and humanity join in canticles of praise and thanksgiving within the blessed community of God’s Kingdom. What the world needs most is a community of holy dreamers willing to be the nurturing womb for the promises of God to be conceived, gestate, and born. 

Walt Whitman, the greatest of American poets, wrote these words in Leaves of Grass:

After the seas are all crossed, (as they seem already crossed,)

After the great captains and engineers have accomplished their work,

After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemist, the geologist, ethnologist,

Finally shall come the poet worthy of that name,               

The true son of God shall come singing his songs. 

Frankly I believe we’ve had our fill of captains and engineers–inventors and scientists–investors and tycoons–technocrats and bureaucrats. What we most need are poets and dreamers who can hear and share the song of God’s new creation. And if we are willing to become children again and receive the joyous gift of wonder, then perhaps–just perhaps we can join Mary in nurturing the promises of God so that the earth can blossom, the blind can see, the deaf can hear, the lame can leap, the mute can sing, and we can all go home together. 

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