Wildfires continue to burn throughout Southern California. And it wasn’t but a few weeks ago that other fires ravaged parts of the northern section of the same state. It’s been a year of horrific hurricanes and floods, as well. Rebuilding after those terible natural disasters will take a long, long time. Just ask the good folks of Puerto Rico, for starters.
Rebuilding houses and businesses is one thing; rebuilding lives is quite another. Sometimes those lives remain broken or damaged or simply “less than” they were before. They are almost always changed, in sometimes dramatic ways.
More than 2,500 years ago a new generation of Jews traveled to their holy city of Jerusalem after a 70-year-long exile in Babylon. Perhaps some of them thought the process of rebuilding the city, along with their individual lives and society as a whole,would be simple, quick, and easy. It was not. The despair exhibited by their parents and grandparents’ generations in watching Jerusalem be destroyed and the harshness of forced exile was different from that experienced by this younger generation of returnees. This time inspired counsel and comfort would come from an unknown prophet whose words would be added to the latter part of the Book of Isaiah:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations…. For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. –Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 NRSV
It’s an age-old question: How do you find the strength to rejoice when you are surrounded by death, destruction, and despair?
It’s a question asked after terrible natural catastrophes and during and following wars and terrorist attacks. It’s also a question raised during times of great social unrest. The United States is experiencing one of those right now. Regardless of how you may feel about the racially motivated events in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and Charlottesville, Virginia, and a long, long list of other places, there’s no question that great numbers of Americans are finding it impossible to rejoice. The above words from Isaiah 61 are worth remembering: “For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.”
The task of rebuilding the social fabric of this nation will prove to be at least as tough as rebuilding houses, businesses, schools, and hospitals utterly destroyed by a violent tornado–maybe far more challenging. It’s certainly incongruous to watch events unfold on the evening TV broadcast news while echoing in the background are carols proclaiming “peace on earth” and “silent night, holy night.” Such is the time in which we live.
There are those Christians who view everything through an apocalyptic lens, predicting “God-inspired calamity.” Some would go so far as to even encourage darkness and evil for the supposed light at the end of that tunnel. But for others of us, we wait during Advent for the coming of Jesus, the prince of peace. We wait, as well, for the coming of a prophetic people with a healing word from God.
My new book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use.