Uncle Pastor Ray Minniecon reflects on the celebration, welcome, Joy and Hope we have in the coming of the Light of the World.
On the seventh day of Advent 2022, Scott Higgins reflects on the vision and hope of good that God intends in Isaiah 65: 17-25.
A Vision for Good
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
When I was a child we often sang a song at church that spoke of “heaven” like this: “I’ve got a mansion, just over the hilltop, in that bright land where we’ll never grow old.” I find it sobering to read this projection of consumerist aspiration against the vision of the world God will create in Isaiah 65:17-25.
The people to whom Isaiah spoke were citizens of a pre-modern agricultural age. The majority worked small plots of land in the hope they would grow sufficient food to supply their own needs, set aside reserves for the next season, pay their taxes, and give them a surplus to trade. Yet a single event - a bad harvest, a mice-plague, a raid by bandits, a serious illness, an increase in the tribute demanded by ruling authorities - could bring them undone. A cycle of debt, debt-slavery, dispossession and poverty all too commonly followed (see for example Nehemiah 5).
Isaiah 65:17-25 however declares that the future will not be an endless rerun of the present but that God will create a world in which lives are long, bellies are full, housing is secure, communities are safe, and harvests are plentiful.
As Bible scholar Richard Bauckham notes this is “simply the life of the ordinary peasant family at its best: owning their own modest smallholding, producing enough to live and with leisure enough to enjoy it, and with no threat from the rapacious rich or foreign invasion.”
So has Isaiah simply done for the ancient Israelite what “I’ve got a mansion” did for me? Painting a picture of the future in terms that make sense of popular aspiration? At a superficial level that may be so, but ultimately the answer is no. Isaiah and the people to whom he spoke were well aware of the existence of mansions and those that lived in them. They are conspicuously absent from his vision because they were the homes of those who grew rich at the expense of their neighbours, who took advantage of their neighbour’s misfortune to make loans that would never be repaid and then used the failure to repay as a basis for acquiring their neighbour’s land. The mansions were the homes of those who chose to reject the alternative path of generous sharing, debt forgiveness, and return of land laid out by God in the law. Isaiah’s vision is not a projection of the material aspirations of the rich but a repudiation of them. It is a vision for a world in which everyone has enough, in which the bonds of community are strong, and in which the creation is abundant. This meant a change in reality for both “peasant farmers” and the powerful and rich.
In our age of consumer excess, environmental degradation, obscene inequality, and growing possibility of nuclear conflagration, Isaiah’s vision of the good God intends is a call to remember that none of these will be history’s last word.
The last word will be God‘s and will issue in a world renewed and whole. And Isaiah’s vision is a call to make sure our home is not a mansion on a hilltop but the global village, where we expend ourselves for a world in which everyone’s belly is full, everyone’s life is long, and everyone’s home is secure.
With the birth of Christ we see the hope and call of this new world being ushered in today.
Scott Higgins is an ordained Baptist minister, consultant, educator and writer, with a focus upon social justice and ethics from a Christian faith-based perspective. Scott has spent three decades in pastoring, social justice advocacy and community education, including a decade working for Baptist World Aid where he founded the Catalyst advocacy program. Scott also founded A Just Cause ministry with Australian Baptist Ministries and lives on Awabakal country in Newcastle, NSW, with his wife Sandy and three children.