The reading for the third Sunday in Advent is Isaiah 35:1-10, looking toward a time when there is no more fear.
When a people are enveloped over an extended period of time in an atmosphere of arrogance and are the victims of its injustice, they easily succumb to fear. Such was the case in Isaiah’s day. And all these years later a shroud of fear overlays many of our attitudes and actions today. We know what it feels like to have “feeble knees” and “fearful hearts” (35:3-4).
This is why the Advent message through the writing of Isaiah is so powerful this year. We continue to get daily doses of unfolding history which are clearly foreboding. “Fear not!” is a two-word exhortation to live another way–not only one that Isaiah uttered, but also the message Gabriel gave to Mary, and words Jesus and Paul spoke to anxious people.
This is more than telling someone to “Buck up!” although we can engage in practices that decrease our fears. Rather, the call to abandon fear is the deeper invitation to shift the basis of our trust from the things we see to the One Who is unseen.
This is not easy, and I admit that history shows there are often long stretches when Light and Life are eclipsed by darkness and death. Isaiah’s time included a 200-year period of division and exile. I have known people who suffered, without relief, until the day they died–despite being prayed for, anointed with oil, etc.
Isaiah’s vision did not begin in history, it began in the hearts of those who believed that sin, suffering, and struggle do not have the last word, and by faith they began to live in relation to that larger reality. Not one person lived to see the return and restoration of the exiled nation, but today’s reading shows that they saw it from afar, and their anticipation kept hope alive.
The writer of Hebrews said the same was true for the cavalcade of saints who likewise saw their redemption via anticipation (Hebrews 11:39-40). We continue to sing the fear-not message, “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” We enter Advent with the promise that there will indeed be a time when there is no more fear, and with the power of faith to deliver us from it in the meantime.