Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11: 2-11
Please join me for a minute in a flight of imagination.
We fast forward to the year 2060. My grandson Harry is 39. Some of us here may be observing from another shore.
Having peaked at 1.6 degrees of warming, the earth’s temperature is now steadily decreasing. Following huge advances in the efficiency of wind turbines and solar panels, energy is now plentiful and cheap. Cars are now all electric, with the exception of a few vintage enthusiasts, taking out their soft top sports cars on a sunny day for a drive. And with cheap energy comes water, piped over long distances from places of high rainfall to those historically beset by drought.
Global population has stabilised and the number of new births is beginning a long steady decline. With a developed-world shortage of young workers, immigration is now a sought-after resource. Nations where the population is still young and increasing – mostly in Africa. – are courted by the once powerful West.
The Arctic ice is thickening once more. Coral reefs are growing back. Global meat consumption has halved following new findings on the long-term toxicity of meat. Wildlife preservation has turned the tide and the animal kingdom is resurgent.
Could this really happen, I wonder? I hear the reply, “Don’t be so naïve.” We have only to reflect on current conflicts to confirm a deep scepticism about human nature and how difficult we are finding it to work together to solve global problems.
So what does it mean to hope for a better future, even an outrageously better one? This is what Isaiah does in our first reading. The desert shall flower, the lame shall leap like a deer. We don’t know exactly when this chapter of Isaiah was written – some say before the destruction of Jerusalem, some after. But we do know that their community was in anxious times, a minnow of a nation being toyed with by aggressive superpowers.
Isaiah’s prophecy is a vision of the future, but it is rooted in an interpretation of the present. Isaiah sees the potential in the now. The seeds of the Kingdom of Heaven are around us, they contain within them all that is needed for this wonderful future. Will they be watered and flourish? Or will they be trampled underfoot?
So this is not a woolly-minded hope. Nor is it an abdication – a “God is in charge, he will take care of everything, there’s no need to worry.” It is the opposite – a sharpening of the consequences that hinge on what we do today. An acute awareness of both the beautiful potential enclosed in those precious seeds and the tragic risk of it all being wasted.
Last week in our Advent course I learned of a song which is being sung all over Iran by those who are protesting: it’s called Baraye. In some ways it is similar to the writings of Isaiah. It imagines a future of freedom. And it is being sung on protest marches, by people who are taking huge risks, women and young people mostly, standing up to power with no power of their own other than this common hope.
Perhaps, I wonder, were Isaiah’s songs also sung by the powerless, in the face of those come to conquer and oppress them?
Isaiah also imagines that the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing. I wonder if there are Iranian-born people in this country who dare to hope they might soon return to visit their families, with a song in their hearts?
There is also a connection between Isaiah - and the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures - and John the Baptist. For John shares this sense of urgency, that our decisions in the present are vitally important in which future they open up.
His call to repent is perhaps better translated as a call to change direction and to do so at this very moment. And like Isaiah, John is focussed on the future. He declares his vocation as one called to prepare the way. His whole life then, is a preparation for what will come after him, or rather who will come after him.
What relevance, then do these imaginings about the future hold for us? Perhaps they encourage us to a renewed hopefulness, urgent and dynamic, that we can influence for a better future, or at least one not as bad for the next generation as it might otherwise become. That in hope we can explore, imagine, create, with a confidence that hope is not merely dreaming, it is a powerful force, closely allied with the spirit of God.
Paul sums it up well in Romans 15:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Richard Young (Rector)