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December 23, 2017

Day Twenty One

Joy

Isaiah 35:1-10

“A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the holy way.” Isaiah 35:8

In my first local church appointment, I was the Associate Youth Pastor at Trinity Pomona UMC. As I began my ministry at Trinity, we had a fairly small youth group, and an even shorter supply of youth counselors. At one “on site” youth retreat, we needed all the youth to sleep on the same floor of the Education wing because we only had two adults and we couldn’t have one adult alone with the youth overnight. Some wanted to sleep downstairs and others upstairs. When the vote came out, Becky, one of the girls began to pout. Obviously she didn’t like the outcome. Her cry, “That’s not fair!” To which I replied, “Becky, what do YOU think is fair?” She paused and then answered, “When everyone gets what they want…” I didn’t say it, but I was thinking, “That’s not fairness, that’s utopia!”

In some ways, you might feel this way when you read Isaiah 35. The author paints a pretty utopian image of how it will be as God restores Israel to its homeland after years of exile in Babylon.

“Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
And the ears of the deaf will be cleared.
Then the lame will leap like the deer,
And the tongue of the speechless will sing.” 35:5-6a

“The burning sand will become a pool,
And the thirsty ground fountains of water.” 35:7a

Yep. Pretty nice. But, I have to be honest. It’s a little over the top for me. The longer I live, the less I trust grand promises, and opulent images of a future not predicted by the evidence of the present. Perhaps that is why the one sentence that grabbed me more than all the other grand images was, “A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the holy way.” This speaks to me because rather than being a culminating event that ends, it is a continuing movement. It helps me to live with joy to knowing there is a “way” forward from where we are to where we need to be as God’s people, and God’s creation. When I read the road before us is “the holy way,” I have hope because the “holy way” is God’s way, and God’s way is always the way of healing, strengthening, restoring and redeeming — simply put, the way that leads to life.

Webster’s dictionary defines “utopia” as “1. An imaginary and indefinitely remote place.” The joy of Advent is knowing that living life on God’s holy highway allows us to experience God’s Holy Way of love and kindness now, even as we participate in paving the way to a better world that lies ahead of us. I find more joy in knowing God’s life-giving love walks with me now, and isn’t just waiting for me at the end.

Prayer: Lord, continue to show me your way that I might guide others to it as well. Amen.

Rev. John Farley
South District Superintendent
Dean of Cabinet
California-Pacific Conference