Word on Wednesday – by John Mason
‘Faith in the Market-Place’… December 7, 2016
‘Christians should not fear speaking about their faith at work and in public places,’ Theresa May said last week (Telegraph, UK, 11/30/16). In his article Steven Swinford reported that the (British) Prime Minister ‘said people should be able to celebrate Christmas… Christianity should be “celebrated, not denigrated”’. The article went on to record Mrs. May saying that Christians should “jealously guard” their right to speak out about their faith as she endorsed a report by the Evangelical Alliance and the Lawyers Christian Fellowship.
According to the article the Prime Minister commented, “Of course we are now into the season of Advent, and we have a very strong tradition in this country of religious tolerance and freedom of speech and our Christian heritage is something we can all be proud of.”
“I’m sure that we would all want to ensure that people at work do feel able to speak about their faith, and also be able to speak quite freely about Christmas,” Mrs May observed.
It’s important we think about this. Too often we are silenced by secular progressivism and its political correctness and are reluctant to speak to others about the good news of great joy of Christmas.
It’s helpful to consider one of the readings set for this Advent season.
Isaiah 35:1-2 reads: The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.
A central theme of Isaiah 1-39 is God’s judgment of his people. Occasionally a bright light shines on the dark scene of impending judgment on Judah (through the Babylonian conquest). Isaiah 35 is one such light, bringing God’s promise of a new day.
Isaiah’s poetry is powerful as he likens the experience of joy and singing at the coming of the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God, to our response when flowers burst into bloom in parched lands after refreshing rain.
It is a vision that inspires courage and fearlessness: Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God..’ (35:3-4a).
But Isaiah 35 also continues to sound a warning note. Because God is holy he must judge what is unholy. In 35:4b we read, ‘…He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense…’ We would be happier to overlook this aspect of God’s character. We’d prefer to hear and pass on only a message of blessing – of justice without judgment, of salvation without a cross.
The wonderful news is that the nature of the God of the Bible is always to have mercy. Isaiah continues: ‘…He will come and save you’ (35:4c). We have no power to save ourselves: spiritually we are blind, deaf, lame and mute (Isaiah 35:5-6). The great news is that God himself will build us a highway into his presence (not just into heaven)! God will bring us to our true and lasting home where there will be joy and gladness… sorrow and sighing shall flee far away (35:8, 10).
Isaiah uses the language of redeemed and ransomed of the Lord (35:9-10) to speak of everyone who is brought into God’s presence. These words look back to the rescue from Egypt; they also look forward to the saving work of Jesus Christ.
There is also something here that we miss. The highway to God is called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it… (35:8). Having been rescued we are now called upon to work at the quality of life that reflects the holiness of God. Paul the Apostle puts it this way: we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, will be transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Isaiah 35 is a great reading for Advent. We see in it another facet of Isaiah’s vision of the glory of the Lord as he points us to the glorious day of the final coming of the Lord. We can drink it in and take new courage as it speaks to us of the everlasting joy and gladness we will then know.
Surely this is news we will want family and friends to know – so they too will see glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.
And, there is a present benefit: Theresa May observed that the report she was commending ‘warns that society is forgetting “that its many freedoms derive from centuries of applying the Bible to public life”.’
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com