What is our response to this beautiful prophetic poetry? This compact, evocative expression of realized eschatology – the already of the prophetic future – and this heart-rending depiction of the good life intended for humanity? [Not to lead the witness at all here …] Do we long for its realization? Notice the gap between consummation and current reality? Focus on the part we think is already achieved? Feel inspired to do more to move the world we live in towards that final realization – assuming we have some part to play in that, however fractional?
Questions we might well ask as we are studying Isaiah 9:2-7 for Sunday, December 19. Which is also the fourth Sunday of Advent, drawing ever closer, once again, to the arrival of the promised miracle. [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are a couple more questions we might want to ask ourselves about this text, or discuss in class:
One exercise that might be illuminating for us would be to spend some time with each of the images: the people walking in darkness; a great light shining in the darkness; a tiny group becoming larger all of a sudden; rejoicing at an abundant harvest; … see what these images bring to our minds. See if we can see where our images come from – what experiences of ours? How does that reflection connect us through our own human experience to the human experience of those ancient Israelites? And presumably to people at least a few years down the road from us, assuming the eschaton is not on the immediate horizon even yet. Does that reflection give us any different sense of the meaning of this prophecy than we had before? What difference does it seem to make?
The prophet is describing an exultant end of oppression and war, the arrival of peace. Does that speak to us personally? How?
[I confess: I cannot shake the image of the bumper sticker I followed through Corydon yesterday on my way to the interstate, “don’t tread on my gun rights.” Our world is complex. I imagine the driver of that vehicle has those gun rights in mind as having something to do with the defense of justice and righteousness. But at best, they are penultimate, surely – still a long way from the shalom of that promised land.]
[It also keeps occurring to me that I have no personal experience at all of the kind of helplessness or vulnerability in the face of military invasion and besieging presence, targeting me and my home, that was the concrete background for the prophet’s poetry. Whatever experience I have of war comes from TV and the newspapers. From the American side. Thankfully. But. Again, our world is complex. This all seems important to think about, but not exactly Christmas cheery.]
The prophet paints a picture of a ruler who will establish an order of justice (mishpat), righteousness (tzedakah), and shalom. It is grounded in his beautiful names in v6 – his combination of wisdom, counsel, might, care, authority, wholeness. Can we imagine that order? Or, begin to? What would change? In us?
[More theological, but maybe also more practical] Theologically, Christians probably identify the prophet’s promised government with the kingdom of God. Which Christians also identify with the lordship of Jesus Christ, which is “already,” though also “not yet.” That is – Christians theologically have some commitment to thinking of ourselves as citizens of this prophetic order. Or – do we?
Or rather – if we took that seriously, what would change? In us?
Overall: I think this text gives us a lot more to think about than we often realize. Doing that thinking, or some more of it, seems like a fitting activity for the end of Advent.
Image: “La Discussion Politique,” Émile Friant, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons