An Advent Reflection
The theme of the second week of Advent in our parish is “The Promise of Joy” from last Sunday’s readings. Today’s advent verse is from the section of the book of Isaiah thought to be spoken to the people of Judea in exile in Babylon, announcing God’s new act of deliverance to restore the people.
“For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” — Isaiah 55:12
There have been many conversations over the years about whether it was appropriate to clap in church. Hard to believe that we who identify as students of Jesus could be preoccupied by such a little thing. We are strange creatures, we human beings. It’s amazing God remains faithful to us. But I understand. Clapping is about culture. For some of us, applause is appreciation and joy. For others, applause signifies praise and approval. Lutherans don’t want to think they do anything for praise, especially things they have done for God. Bach, the good Lutheran, apparently wrote “Soli deo Gloria” (“wholly to the glory of God”) on all his compositions. But if the trees are going to clap, I figure we can, too. It is the natural outpouring of joy.
Creation sings at the work of God to gather all things to himself. The world around us praises God not just for his glory as creator, but for God’s work of new creation – God’s work of deliverance, of highways home, of prisons opened, of tables made welcome. All creation sings God’s praise – and if we are silent, the rocks will cry out.
But the more I pondered this passage, the more I began to realize the importance of the little words “before you”. The hills and trees are shouting applause as the people walk the royal highway out from exile to home. It is a parade. And the natural world is cheering us, cheering us as we go out in joy and come home in peace, cheering us as we lay claim to our inheritance, applauding as we live out God’s deliverance. “The creation waits with eager longing,” writes Paul, for us to shine forth as God’s redeemed, for us to live God’s peace and joy.