I'm fairly certain these words did not inspire hope in the folks who heard Isaiah speak them. I'm pretty sure they thought Isaiah was nuts! In the midst of the devastation of war and universal corruption and immorality, they would have dismissed him as crazy. How could anyone anticipate a time of the Lord's blessing and glory, God's sovereignty and holiness, and a return to a time of flourishing? Just plain foolishness.
His message is as much a challenge to us now, as it was to folks then. Universal health care? Immigration reform? Economic recovery and increased employment? No matter what your political perspective, it's hard to imagine these happening soon. Anyone that thinks it's possible is crazy. "Too much corruption and dishonesty and greed," "You don't know human nature," or "I'm a realist- it'll never happen".
Our “problem” is not that we have given up on a vision for the future; our “problem” is that we have given up on God's action and presence now... in us, among us, with us. When we think of "hope", it's hard to comprehend that in any other way than looking forward to "a time when....” We see it in the desperate faces of a family praying for healing and health for a loved one, or a spouse praying for employment for her husband, or students praying for an "A" on an exam or to pass a course or to get accepted to professional school. Our hope is too small. We hope for particular outcomes for the future. Yes, it's good to pray for all these ... but can we pray also that we recognize God's laboring for us now, in the present? Can we trust there is something happening here beyond what we can see or know right now? Can we get out of the way?
In Matthew's Gospel reading for today, a centurion tells Jesus that his servant is lying at home, paralyzed, suffering dreadfully. He doesn't tell Jesus what his servant needs; he simply comes to Jesus in faith and trust. Is healing what happens when we are open enough to set aside prejudices, categories, and expectations, coming simply, with trust and faith?
Isaiah's words are a challenge to us, not so much because they encourage us to trust in God's action in and for the future, to hope for "better times to come"; they are a challenge because they encourage us to trust in God's actions now. Can we hope in God's action without demanding a particular outcome? Can we be vulnerable enough to let God be present, in the way God wants to show up? Can we join the Psalmist in praying: "I rejoiced because they said to me, "We will go up to the house of the Lord." and now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem"?
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