For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
“Three themes emerge in the description of the coming new creation, any one or all of which could serve as a basis for the proclamation of the good news”.
- “Joy. The LORD enjoins the people to be glad and rejoice. Indeed, gladness and rejoicing are the hallmarks of the new creation envisioned by this Isaiah:
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.
- God wills that God’s people might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Isaiah 65:20 exults in the claim that, in the new creation, infant mortality will be unheard of, as will be the death of anyone younger than one hundred years
“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”
- Just rewards for labour. They will enjoy the work of their hands and as will their children and their descendants.
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.
But I believe Bouzard glosses over a very important theme.
- Ecological Community. Isaiah’s vision includes wild carnivorous animals sitting down side by side with herbivores.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
When you see images of dogs and other animals protecting sheep, goats and chickens, the vision doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous.
To what extent do these themes present in Isaiah’s vision have anything to do with the Gospel passage?
Jesus doesn’t promise a short path to the time when Isaiah’s vision will come true. On the contrary he makes it clear that persecution and even death will be the lot of those who follow him.
The next question we need to reflect on is to what extent these themes of the new creation are part of our vision?
Let’s look at the Gospel passage in a little more detail. The disciples start the conversation by commenting on the beauty of the Temple. King Herod had created an amazing stone mountain and then on top he had the temple built. In many ways the whole thing was a great feat of engineering. Herod is often known as Herod the great. But of course he managed these great works through forced labour. Not only was there forced labour and heavy taxes but he had to include the images of the Roman Empire in the façade of the building to please his overlords. Eventually the people of Israel rebelled which brought the full wrath of the Roman Empire on them. The temple was destroyed leaving just rubble on the Temple mount.
People in power generally don’t like the vision that Isaiah offers us. They would lose their position of power. They, like all of us, seek Joy and Life in Abundance, but they hold onto the notion that is only possible at someone else’s expense. Certainly humanity has functioned on this premise for thousands of years. Violence and various forms of slavery have always been significant factors in the “great” empires. Those who are in power or who feel they are losing grip on the comfortable life they enjoy are very quick to use violence. So far the Chinese government has been very reticent to use too much power in Hong Kong. But perhaps that is because they are conscious that the world still remembers the Tienanmen Square .
In Chile the brutality of the powerful has led to quite a few deaths. Places like Syria, Yemen and the Congo slip out of the news cycle because the violence has been going on for years.
Jesus says we need to expect these things. ‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ Luke 21:9
Leaders will pop up with notions that they are the “messiah” needed to restore the world to equilibrium. ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them. Luke 21:8. While these leaders are seen by many as a sort of messiah figure they only desire the equilibrium, the peace that works in their favour.
History will role on and eventually these messiah figures lose their position of power. As history rolls on even the earthquakes and volcanos that seem to be omens of the end come and go.
What is it then that ushers in the great day of the Lord? In Matthew’s version of this apocalyptic sermon he includes “And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come”. (Matt 24:14)
What about us, does our vision of the Kingdom of God have these wonderful themes from Isiah? Are they part of the Good News that we proclaim? I imagine most of us expect joy and the abundance of life in God. When I pray for people I pray that they will be happy and healthy. In other words I pray for joy and an abundant life. I add one more “h” word holy. I pray that they will be happy, healthy and holy. For some it is hard to imagine that they will ever be holy. Holiness can germinate and sprout when people experience the joy and healing that comes from God. I believe a level of holiness is an essential ingredient that leads to the next two themes.
When it comes to the theme of “Just rewards for labour”, I dare say that most of us, if not all of us, expect that God’s kingdom will be a place where we are all equal and we all can expect a fair wage for our work. We may think that the Kingdom of God is one big long holiday with no work. But the kingdom of God over laps the here and now with eternity. For now good honest work is very much a part of our life in God as we hear in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.
But our notion of just reward for labour begins to fall apart when we want to buy a bargain. With coffee and chocolate we can find fair-trade items. Usually only about 5% of these things. However, it is much more difficult to find clothing and other things like shoes with a fair-trade guarantee. There is an app you can get for your phone that has information on Fair-trade issues that allows you to scan bar codes and get information. Isaiah’s vision that people’s homes and farms would be like the trees, there generation after generation. For that to happen we need to pay the farmers significantly more than the supermarkets offer them. For Isaiah’s vision to happen families working in factories in Bangladesh need to earn four to ten times more so they can educate their children and plan for the future.
The fourth theme from Isaiah is the ecological community. It includes the notion that the people of Bangladesh and China are our brothers and sisters. Of course they deserve a fair wage. But Isaiah includes the animals and by implication the whole cosmos. Do we dare to include Mother Nature in our vision of the Kingdom of God? Pope Francis in his letter Laudato Si calls us to have an “ecological conversion”. He says, then the effects of our encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in our relationship with the world around us. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience”
So as we draw to the end of the Christian Year lets soak into our DNA the themes from Isaiah’s vision such that we become co-creators of the new creation. Let’s work for all people to know joy and simple prosperity, ensuring that all enjoy fair rewards for their hard work. And let’s begin to appreciate the interconnectedness of the universe and work towards an Ecological Community.