The third Sunday in Advent focuses on joy in an otherwise subdued and penitential season. Isaiah 35:1–2 describes a joy that bursts forth dramatically:
“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.”
I am told that when it finally rains in the desert everything comes to life very quickly. The ground that looked so barren and dead literally bursts into life. The word that Isaiah uses here for blossom can also mean to break forth, to break out or to spring up.
This is what the angels of heaven did on the night Jesus was born:
Luke 2:13–14 “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
The angels knew that the birth of the Savior meant peace on earth and good will to men. They had waited patiently for the birth of Jesus. And when it finally came, they could not hold back their joy any longer; they burst into song.
If you are sports fan at all you’ve seen the fans of a team burst into joy when their team wins or when there is a great play.
When Jesus healed people, they would often burst into joy. This fits in with what Isaiah describes also in chapter 35:
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;  then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;  the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. (Isaiah 35:5-7)
And we sing of this sudden, bursting joy in our Advent and Christmas hymns:
“Hark the glad sound! The Savior comes, the Savior promised long;
Let ev’ry heart prepare a throne and ev’ry voice a song.
He comes the pris’ners to release, in Satan’s bondage held.
The gates of brass before Him burst, the iron fetters yield.” (Lutheran Service Book, hymn 349, verse 1-2)
“O Savior rend the heavens wide; come down, come down with mighty stride;
Unlock the gates, the doors break down, unbar the way to heaven’s crown.” (Lutheran Service Book, hymn 355, verse 1)
“O let the harps break forth in sound! Our joy be all with music crowned, our voices gladly blending!
For Christ goes with us all the way – today, tomorrow, ev’ry day, His love is never ending!
Sing out! Ring out! Jubilation! Exultation! Tell the story!
Great is he the king of glory!” (Lutheran Service Book, hymn 395, verse 5)
During the season of Advent we purposely hold back our joy so that it can burst forth on Christmas Eve. James talks about that in the fifth chapter of his epistle:
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.  Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.  As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:7-!1)
Be patient until the coming of the Lord, James says. Do not grumble against one another. As examples of patience look at the prophets and look at Job. Our patience will be rewarded; be patient until the coming of the Lord. Then all the waiting we have done will be over and we can burst into joy.
Of course, not all bursting is beneficial. If it rains too much and causes rivers to burst their banks it is not good.
If a person always holds in their emotions and doesn’t express them eventually those emotions will come bursting out, probably not in a healthy way.
This word can also be used in the sense of someone breaking free of the Lord and his ways, something that the people of Israel did time and again, something that we do over and over.
We cannot keep bursting with joy forever. Eventually our bursts of joy will settle down into a more mature joy. Not every day can be the Fourth of July for our faith. We learn that as we age.
For those who have consistently gone through the waiting periods of life, followed by the bursts of joy, life eventually settles into a mature joy that is confident of God’s love and presence. Isaiah also describes this mature joy:
“And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isiah 35:10)