“You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you.”
Isaiah 62: 3-4 (In a reading from the second Sunday after Epiphany)
Among the biblical prophets, Isaiah may be the most poetic and eloquent writer, a gifted artist and spiritual pathfinder for Israel’s future. In this passage he addresses a community that is depressed, suffering low self-esteem, and reeling from the sins of its past. He speaks to people who live in a foreign land with their communal identity seriously on the line. The powerful Babylonian army had destroyed Jerusalem and led the most educated and influential Jews into exile. For most cultures, suffering such a blow and brain drain, and enduring it for many decades, would spell the end of their existence. Eventually they’d be absorbed into the language, culture and religion of the new world. That fate was a real possibility for God’s people at the time when these sacred words were written. But the prophet speaks hope into the hearts of people; he paints a picture of new possibilities; he allows people to hear the forgiving, loving, comforting, and visionary voice of God. I wonder sometimes how Isaiah’s words were originally received. Did people believe him or did they ridicule him? His words must have sounded fantastic to the folks in Exile. “A crown of beauty in the hand of God?” That’s most definitely not how they felt. The Lord delighting in them? Really? They had experienced the darker side of life and must have questioned the certitudes of their own faith. If these people were anything like us, they were even slightly cynical. “What God are you talking about, Isaiah?” “We don’t want to set our hopes too high, lest we are disappointed all over again!”
Faith is a delicate act, isn’t it?
But without faith and without a vision for the future, we perish long before we die. Many years ago, the American theologian Walter Bruggeman wrote a book about the prophets of Isaiah’s era. The title of this short book tells us everything: “Hopeful Imagination.” Faith conceives hopeful imagination, something that the church sometimes lacks in its desperate attempts to survive the growing secularization in our country. But to a people whose ears are attuned to the Holy One, hopeful imagination is never far away. The re-imagination of our churches begins among the people of faith who are not afraid to dream and to dream big.
Pastor Andreas Wagner