On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy. It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain. —Isaiah 4:2-6
A few years ago, I spent a summer at Holden Village, a small community situated in the middle of the Cascades in Washington State. As the Village was literally surrounded by mountains, I spent a lot of time hiking and reveling in the beauty of the created world. One hike I took followed a path that wove through a section of forest that, just two years prior, had been ravaged by a forest fire. Blackened stumps of trees stuck out of the ground on each side of the path, painting a scene of lifeless desolation. However, just below these trees, the forest floor was carpeted with brilliant purple flowers, a type of flower that I later learned only grew after a forest fire raged its fury through an area.
The passage from Isaiah that we read today speaks to God's restoration and care even after times of fierce judgment. It was most likely compiled in the 8th century BCE, a time of war and political upheaval as various kingdoms in the Ancient Near East battled for control of Israel and Judah. Immediately preceding and following this passage are harsh words of judgment on Judah for religious infidelity and for trusting foreign powers over that of The Lord. Israel deserted The Lord, so Israel will be destroyed by foreign enemies.
However, like a cool rain on a humid, tension-filled day, out of these words of judgment come words of hope and restoration. "On that day the branch of The Lord shall be beautiful and glorious and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.” After a period of purification and cleansing, Jerusalem shall be beautiful once more, and The Lord will take care of this city and its inhabitants. A great canopy of clouds will shelter the city from heat, storm, and rain and will give light by night. This passage is like a brief moment of calm in the midst of a storm. Judgment is not the last word.
I’d like to return to the image of the charred, purple forest in the Cascades. Fires are a necessary part of the ecosystem of a forest: it is only through the cleansing of a fire that the forest can regenerate - new trees grow, purple flowers blossom. Life can begin anew, even after a catastrophic event.
What storms are you weathering this Advent? What fires assail your mind, body, and spirit? What relationships cry out to be restored? As we wait and prepare for the arrival of Christ in our midst, both in Bethlehem and at the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, may we remember that God cares for us in the midst of our struggles and that we can look forward to the complete restoration of our relationships, our communities, and of the world entire.
Prayer: God of restoration, walk with us in this season of Advent. Help us see your care for us in the midst of the storms that rage against us. Guide our eyes to the light that you provide for us in moments of darkness. Let us abide in hope as we wait for your fully restored Kingdom.
Katie Chatelaine-Samsen is Director of Individual Giving for Sojourners.