Rev Katherine Rainger reflects on the ancient and contemporary desire for peace.
A new song
Rev Dr Jill Firth reflects on a cut-through new song that changes the tune that’s been on continuous replay.
Daily Reading Isaiah 26:1-6
On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
he sets up victory
like walls and bulwarks.
Open the gates,
so that the righteous nation that keeps faith
may enter in.
Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
in peace because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord for ever,
for in the Lord God
you have an everlasting rock.
For he has brought low
the inhabitants of the height;
the lofty city he lays low.
He lays it low to the ground,
casts it to the dust.
The foot tramples it,
the feet of the poor,
the steps of the needy.
In Advent, we are longing. We are longing for justice in our cities, for healing of our people, for righteous leadership.
I have just returned from San Diego, a beautiful waterfront city, where homeless war veterans are a common sight on the street. I have been reading Holly Beers’ portrayal of the life of a Greco-Roman woman in first century Ephesus, where domestic violence, the abandoning of unwanted infants, and sexual use of slaves were an accepted aspect of society. I have followed the news of Aboriginal deaths in custody, of too much plastic and emissions, of injustice in Centrelink and the financial sector. We are longing for a new city, a new song, and a new king.
Isaiah invites us to compare two cities: a strong city where the righteous are welcome (26.1–2), and a lofty or proud city which has been brought low (26.5). Isaiah has described the destruction of the alien city of the ruthless (25.2–3), and God’s gift to the poor and needy of refuge and shelter from enemy attacks like driving rain and burning heat (25.4). The end of the oppressive city, Babylon, is also described in the New Testament (Revelation 18.2). Those in distress will be welcomed into the new Jerusalem, where thirst will be quenched and sorrow will be no more (Revelation 21.1–6).
In Isaiah, God has turned down the volume on the song of the ruthless, which was previously on continuous replay (25.5). We are given a new song about the salvation of God (26.1), who gives peace and safety forever, to anyone who trusts in him (26.3–4). God is an everlasting rock who is trustworthy and secure (26.4). Now the trampling of enemy war boots will no longer be heard, but the feet of the poor will tread down the city of the proud (26.6).
We are longing for a leader unlike Sauron or Voldemort, a leader who will bring us justice and peace. He will be unlike the rulers of Isaiah’s time, who overstepped their authority (10.5–12). He will be like God, ruling in righteousness, a refuge from tempest and drought, giving shade like a great rock in a weary land (32.1–2). He will be a sign of God with us, Immanuel (Isaiah 7.14––literally from the Hebrew, Im=with, nu=us, El=God). Matthew’s gospel connects this picture of the awaited king to Jesus, who will come as saviour, and be called Emmanuel (Matthew 1.21–23––the Greek spelling of Immanuel). In Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ overthrow of the proud and lifting up of the lowly is imaged in Mary’s song (Luke 1.51–53).
A prayer of the soul’s yearning and desire for God’s rule and justice:
O LORD, we wait for you;
your name and your renown
are the soul’s desire.
My soul yearns for you in the night,
my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.
For when your judgements are in the earth,
the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. (Isaiah 26.8b–9, NRSV)
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