An Advent Reflection
The theme of the fourth week of Advent in our parish is “The Promise of ‘God with us’” from last Sunday’s readings. Today’s advent verse is from the section of the book of Isaiah spoken to the people of Judea in exile in Babylon, announcing God’s new act of deliverance to restore the people.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. —Isaiah 43:2-3
The path from exile back to Jerusalem was hazardous: the heat of the desert and across the wadis that slice through the land, wild beasts and marauders. It’s why the prophet in another place declares that God will make a highway through the desert, leveling the hills, filling in the ravines and keeping any wild threat or danger from the road. I can imagine there were many who thought the trek foolish. Certainly, many stayed behind.
The promise is spoken to the whole people, but only some dared to set out on the journey. Promises are easy to hear, harder to trust and follow.
It’s poetry. We know it’s poetry. The image is metaphor not literal. But the promise is real. God will open the path. God will be with them on the journey. God is not asking them to walk on coals, but to travel the path of trusting allegiance, to head towards the fulfillment of the promise.
And we too are invited to trust the promise. Whatever rivers seem to block our path, whatever barrenness threatens to suck the life from us, we are invited to travel the way of justice and mercy, the path of the kingdom, the work of grace. We are promised that God will be with us.
We have seen the face of that promise in the child of Bethlehem – and in the man he grew to be. We have seen the outstretched arms. We have seen the empty tomb. We have seen the fire of the Spirit. We have seen the healing offered to the world.