Excerpted from Keep Awake, an Advent Guide for Lectionary Year A from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
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 shouting.
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.
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.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf shall be opened;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp;
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
We have all heard Franklin Roosevelt’s famous statement during the Depression: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Those words reassured a frightened nation. Unfortunately, fear itself is often enough.
Fear is a motivator and market force. Fear sells guns, car alarms, and security systems. Fear wants to build walls, protect our jobs, protect our country. Fear limits and paralyzes; prevents us from trying something new, stretching, reaching out and risking. Fear keeps us from speaking up, asking a question, going out for the team, trying out for the part, applying for the job.
Fear prevents us from striving for greatness, from ascending to the highest heights because things feel safer on the ground. Fear reduces the scope of our lives, the extent of our love, the depth of our passion, the generosity of our giving.
It is to a fearful people the prophet Isaiah brings these words of hope and joy. It is a promise of salvation rooted in the words: Fear not. Your God will come and save you.
It takes a good amount of faith to remain vigilant, to keep awake, when there is plenty to discourage you, plenty to fear. But faith does not mean the absence of fear. Faith means doing what you need to do, loving, caring, sharing your passions and gifts, living a faithful life, in spite of fear. Keep awake, keep living because something has happened that is more real, more pervasive, more powerful, more to be trusted than whatever is to be feared.
God has come among us. God’s love is the most powerful reality in the world and in our lives. God’s love lives among us and in us. It sustains us even when we are afraid.
Therefore, keep awake and do not fear. Amen.