Our reading begins with words previously addressed in ch.43 and repeated at the end of the Bible in John’s Revelation (Ch. 21). They point us to one of the most basic elements of our faith: hope! And the hope that God’s not done with us! It’s the hope that there is always room for expectancy: that the new thing that God promises is still coming.
It’s like there’s a rhythm that pulses throughout the book of Isaiah, much of scripture, and through much of life! It always begins with God’s calling/drawing of us as God’s people before moving on to the blessings which we sense are associated with responding to that call. Then, inevitably, there’s our failure and our having to live with the consequences of that failure, followed by a renewed calling/drawing and the renewed promise of blessing… All before invariably more failure and more having to live the consequences of that failure! Only to start again – thank God – with renewed calling, and so on.
For Isaiah it all began with his calling in Ch. 1! He remembers that it was when their mighty king Uzziah died that he felt himself being called. The people of Judah had been living extremely well in ‘their promised land’ under that great king – enjoying unprecedented wealth, peace & comfort. But they had also allowed themselves to forget who they actually were and why they existed. They had forgotten that they had been chosen to be God’s blessing to others and all creation and not just for their own privilege and comforts. That’s what the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are all about – God’s message of warning that: they are to come back into meaningful relationship with God and with God’s plans for their lives or else all they have will be lost! They ignored the warning and, in 597BCE, it came crashing down as mighty Babylon, under the pretty unstoppable king Nebuchadnezzar, invaded Judah, destroyed their temple as well as all their most holy places and took them off into Babylonian exile.
But then, from Ch. 40, Isaiah’s message changes. To an exiled Judah, humiliated and shattered, come words of promise and hope: ‘comfort, comfort my people…’ That’s also when we meet prophecies of the suffering servant who was to come to heal them – pointing them to Jesus Christ who was to be born some 500 years later. The promise was that they will one day be set free to come home to their place of original blessing and rebuild the temple! As we know, that happened with the defeat of Babylon by King Cyrus of Persia in 538BCE, who then allowed all the exiled to go home to Jerusalem – and to rebuild the temple there and their lives!
From Ch. 55 the message changed once again. They were home. Settled! The temple was being rebuilt. They were no longer shattered, no longer exiled, no longer spiritually hungry. A new message was necessary! Voices begin urging them to wake up from their luke-warm complacency and to re-engage with what God intends for them.
Thank God for faith cycles! Thank God our descent to complacency and faithlessness never just ends it for us! But we do unfortunately tend to get stuck there!
Just like those returned exiles, we may be among the chosen of God, called and blessed, but also like them, we may never forget that our chosen blessedness always has associated responsibilities! May we never forget that we are chosen for purpose, not simply privilege. Our embracing of promise without embracing the associated responsibilities is profoundly destructive and creates greed! So many prosperity cults that exist today, based purely on ‘the promises’ but without any emphasis on responsibility! Just ‘name it and claim it! They say! ` Seriously? As if our God-given blessings are ever meant to be about just ourselves!
But, equally, the taking on of responsibility without the promised privilege of blessings is brutal, and always = fear! We are not made to live in fear! Fear is never our God-given reality! We were made to live our lives from a place of love, not fear! May we never believe that God would do that – only give us responsibility without the associated promises of privilege!
We see in this 3rd part of the book of Isaiah these prophetic words of both promise and responsibility which are aimed at getting an overly-complacent, recently-returned-from-exile-and-now-settled-people to wake up, and to take responsibility for living in to & out from their blessings!
While it’s God’s own purest grace that saves us – we get that – and that we access that grace by our bit of faith. But as that truth gains any traction in us so we are required to live into our responsibility to be used to make God’s difference which, of course, is why any of us are here!
God is doing it; creating that new heaven & new earth! In Christ, we believe that there is a sense in which God has even already completed it! God would have us know that, & have us live lives that bear responsible witness to that!
Where are you currently in that faith cycle Isaiah demonstrates?
Perhaps ‘called? Nudged? Drawn?’ …perhaps even increasingly aware of your many awesome benefits & blessings?
How have you become stuck? …becoming complacent with those blessings – believing they’re just for yourself?
Well… know that it’s not over!
Know that God still wants you – is still calling, longing, intending to bless & then to use you…
IT’S WHAT GOD DOES…
Dear God, thank you for all you have done for us and for all creation in Christ. Thank you for giving us a role in the creation of your new heaven and new earth. Thank you for not giving up on us. Help us not to miss out on living into what you have done/ are doing/ are longing to be doing. We would embrace all you have already made us to be and get busy doing all you would have us be doing. In Christ, Amen.
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