Isaiah dreamed of the coming of Israel’s Anointed One, the one who would make everything right. His dreams took the shape of the most amazing things he had seen: the desert not only blooming but singing with blossoms; weak hands and feeble knees made strong once more; sight and hearing, song and dance restored.
The Psalmist dreamed, too, that the God who had spoken the world out of primeval chaos would speak the word to recreate the world in justice.
John the Baptist did more than dream: he was able to know his dreams were coming true, and he told everyone around him that the world had changed forever, and that they needed to change with it. This so annoyed the Romans and those colluding with the ruling power that they locked John up.
John was born into a changing world, along with his cousin, Jesus. Their mothers knew and sang these changes before the boys were born. I can’t even imagine the lullabies that must have mainlined love and transformation into their heads and hearts as they grew up.
They both knew the songs and dreams and promises of their people, by heart and in their hearts. And so it was that John could ask Jesus, through their friends, if he was the One. And Jesus could reply in terms John would understand, echoes of Isaiah’s vision: Yes, cousin, the weak are made strong, the voiceless are singing, those who were dead are dancing once more.
Once you have seen and felt this power of life coursing through and around you, you never forget. And if it should leave you, you can only dream of how it will feel when it returns. So it is for the author of the letter included among our texts today. The letter is attributed to James, the brother of Jesus. It is certainly the work of someone who has loved and lost, but who trusts that the One he loves will return. In the first generation or two after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the early Christian community felt sure Jesus would Be Right Back.
A couple of thousand years later, we are still dreaming and looking. Some parts of the church are keyed to a particular dream of a certain sort of return. There is such comfort in certainty.
Others among us, not finding enough certainty in certainty, dream other dreams.
We look for Jesus’ return in our own lives, when we and those around us choose our highest and best ways to love. We dream of that love having transformative power: that it will transform us and that we will be able to transform the world.
Like our ancient cousins, we look to the world around us for images that those sorts of transformations are still possible.
And so, hearing the song of promise — that there is a Holy Way, and I will be invited to walk on it, and so will you — I look around me, and see a foggy light filling the bottom below our house. We are wrapped in gray mist, and all is cool and quiet.
And yet. Even in this cold and gray winter morning, with a hard freeze behind and ahead, I know there is a sun shining, beams of light-energy that warm the world and make it to bloom. The power of Light and Love has caused there to be a world that changes always, and in that changing nature promises possibility, always, which — if we are paying attention — gives cause for hope.
And so here, at this point in my life, when I often feel wrapped in the gray cloud of not-knowing where I can work and serve and continue to grow into who God wants me to be, I am hopeful, because of transformations that have come before, burned my fog away, made my deserts bloom, given me a road to travel and companions to travel with.
“A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way ….”
The light of Isaiah’s vision came streaming in to John, sitting cold and alone in a dark prison. And he could know, even as he faced down death, that the rough ways were being made smooth.
This transformation of rough ways into the holy Way is God’s gift to us. Even in the gray cold of a foggy bottom morning, I can know that transformation is coming. Even for me. Even for you. And all shall see it.