In scripture the prophets play an interesting role. While our first thoughts about prophets center around telling the future, rarely were prophets predicting future events. Prophets in scripture were preachers, voices for God, and counter-views to the dominate voice, which was often the voice of the king. They were called to speak the word of God whether people would listen or not to God’s truth. In the midst of this truth speaking, often truth being spoken to power, they painted a picture of a different world. They imagined what the world could be, the world God desires, and then they spoke it into existence. They spoke in such a way that people started to believe, perhaps this future reality could happen.
Often they spoke during times of crisis; exile was either coming, or exile had come. Because of the looming threat of exile, they often were calling for repentance and a return to serving the LORD our God. At the same time, they spoke of a new future.
The day is coming…
It shall come to pass…
And then on that day…
With these phrases they would speak in such a way that those who heard were reminded that no matter how bleak events looked at the moment, there was hope for the future. The future new creation was going to be realized. The world God imagined was going to come to pass. As listeners caught the vision, they were encouraged to live faithfully into the imagined future.
This way of speaking of the future is sometimes called the prophetic imagination, and it’s the role Isaiah is trying to perform at the beginning of Chapter two.
There is very little positive message in Isaiah chapter one. While there are famous verses about the possibility of forgiveness (though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as wool) the majority of the chapter is about rebellion and wickedness. My children, says God, that I have brought up have rebelled against me. I raised them to live righteous lives, but they have fallen into sin. Jerusalem, which should be a faithful city, has become a whore. Isaiah is using harsh language. Jerusalem is the center of religious and political life. It’s the home of the Temple and the place of sacrifices. It houses the Ark of the Covenant, yet God has nothing good to say about the city.
The city is wicked. The nation is wicked. The people are wicked.
However, in chapter two Isaiah makes the switch. “It shall come to pass in the later days.” Isaiah switches from judgment to hopeful imagination. Isaiah reaches into the future to claim a reality that seems unattainable, but through the power of God and the Spirit, will become the true story. A time is coming when the mountain of the LORD will be established high above every other mountain. Nations will stream to the LORD. They will seek the LORD’s guidance on how to live a righteous life. They will know that with the LORD comes justice and peace. Wars will cease. Fighting will end. Peace will reign.
Isaiah is painting a picture, encouraging all of us to look past the present struggles in order to find a world made right. The present world may be filled with wickedness, but the time is coming when this present world will be done, and the new creation will be realized.
In essence, Isaiah is giving them hope. Isaiah has spoken into a tangled mess of wickedness, pain, and brokenness and offered hope. Isaiah has offered hope through imagination of what the future will become.
This future imagined reality then becomes the basis for faithful living. The new creation is coming, “so let us walk in the light of the LORD.”
This season of Advent also offers hope; hope in the once and future coming of Jesus Christ. It’s easy to look around us and see all that is wrong with the world, but this season provides us a chance to believe in a new reality. A reality in which God comes near, and God’s presence makes all the difference. A reality in which even though our sins tore us away from God, God did not abandon us, but instead became one of us to redeem us. A reality in which Jesus hasn’t left, but Jesus will return and make the world right; will create something new.
This is not just a time of presents, lights, and even a small nativity set placed on a fancy tray as a decoration in our living room. This is a season in which God offers the prophetic imagination. The birth of a child is a dream for the future. This season breaks into our normal ordinary life to remind us there is still hope. It cuts through the brokenness of our world to remind us there is more than what we often see around us. This season cuts into our cancer treatments, our struggling marriages, our financial shortfalls, our job frustrations, our addictions, and our pain to offer a glimpse of the world as it could be; and to offer us even just the smallest bit of hope. Hope for the future; perhaps this struggle is not the end. Perhaps life will get better. Perhaps God does still hear; and care.
Christ didn’t just come 2000 years ago, Christ is coming again. The future is real, so live it now. Allow the dream of the future to change how you live everyday.
Christ came, Christ comes, Christ will come again.