A New Heaven and a New Earth

Isaiah 65:17-25



How do you feel about change?  Do you cringe away from anything you don’t already know or leap for joy at the idea of an ever transforming world?  I suppose for many of us, it’s not really the change that we might fear but instead fear of losing something.  I myself like my routines and I count on them.  I like to have my seat on the couch where my cat knows to meet me for a tummy rub.  I know how to operate my oven and car and don’t really want to learn another.

Of course, there are some changes that are clearly for the good.  I wouldn’t want to go back to a time before modern medicine, when sickness would go through and kill off massive populations.  I love that this changing world now has the internet.  For all it’s flaws, the connection I now have to information and people around the world are a blessing.

Sometimes, the changes we resist can be attributed to what’s often called, “the devil you know.”  We know it’s not healthy, we know we’d be better off with a change, but we do sometimes take comfort in our situations simply because of familiarity.  Do you notice that often, Jesus asks before offering healing?  Yes this person is blind, but maybe that’s all she knows and doesn’t want this to change.

Fortunately or not, change is inevitable – it’s a part of living a life.  Beyond that though, change is a huge part of our sacred stories.  Whether it’s God, one of the prophets, or Jesus himself, the problems of the world are recognized and they must be resolved and this means change – sometimes big ones!  We’re also Easter people and while we sometimes speak of dying into new life as a metaphor, the transformational change involved in this core aspect of Christianity is quite literal.

Life in our time is all about change – technology, society, and even nations and borders are changing all the time, some for good, and some not so much, but this is ironically, not a change – we’ve always changed.

The people of Judah were all in favour of change.  They were in one of the most difficult times of their history.  A huge portion the population was in forced exile in Babylon while others, those seen as being of little threat, were allowed to stay in Judah.  No one knew what was happening with their kin, the people in Babylon had no idea what was left of their beautiful homeland.  And worst of all, there was still the idea that God resided in Jerusalem so to be exiled from their homeland was also to be exiled from God’s presence.

The Prophet Isaiah spent the first part of this book warning the people of Judah that this was coming.  The signs were all there.  Corruption and division was running rampant, people were abandoning God to worship other Gods based on wealth and power.  Unfortunately, as has been the story of so much of our history, Isaiah’s warnings were ignored and the Babylonians rolled right over them.

Living in exile the judeans were faced with a choice.  They could fight, assimilate, or live in despair.  While all these choices were used, the largest part of the population fell into despair.

Isaiah wanted to give them back some amount of hope and so the last chapters of this book are a vision of what’s to come.  He offered them the promise that things would get better, that God had not forgotten them thad that God was indeed still active in the world.  He tells them that God is creating a new heaven and a new earth where crying will cease, where all people will lives to the fullest.  He promises that in the world to come, there will also be economic justice, where the people that labour will enjoy the fruits of that labour rather than is only going to a select few.  He tells us that wars will come to an end and that even the wild animals will obey God and live in peace.

This is a beautiful, stirring vision of what’s to come and I’m sure that when this was first read to those who wanted desperately to return to their homeland, there were hearts filled with inspiration, hope and joy.  Of course, there were some that heard these words and very much like today, think that this is impossible, it’s a pipe dream, it’s not only a faint hope but a foolish hope.  After all, it’s been 2500 years since Isaiah wrote these words and we only have to watch the news to know this isn’t even close to a reality.  Our world is a rotted out scary, dangerous place and always will be.

Or is it?  At the turn of the century the United Nations adopted a 15 year plan called the Millennium Development goals covering 8 areas of needed relief.  The results are in and there are some pretty amazing results.  Because the world set it’s collective mind to the task:

  • The number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped by more than half, from 1.8 billion to under 900 million.
  • enrolment in primary schools has gone from 83% in developing countries to 91%.  The same change has happened in the global literacy rate, 83 to 91%
  • More and more women are finding their way into paid employment and in SE Asia there are now more girls enrolled in school boys.
  • Global infant mortality has dropped by more than half and simply expanding the availability of vaccines has saved the lives of more than 15 million children from measles alone.
  • 45% fewer women die in childbirth than 15 years ago.
  • There has been a tremendous drop in infection rates of malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis.
  • Thanks largely to the leadership Canada offered in the 1990, ozone depleting chemicals have almost disappeared.
  • 2.6 billion more people have access to clean drinking water
  • 95 percent of the world is now connected by cell phone coverage

That’s not to say the work is over.  We still have a very long way to go and the U.N. has taken on new goals for the next 15 years.  We still have children dying from hunger and preventable disease, we still have many, some right here in Canada who don’t have access to clean water, and the report reminds us that all this progress will be undermined if we can’t stop the horrible damage we’re doing to the earth’s environment.  Still though, there is good news in the progress that’s been made but more so, these incremental improvements show that we can make this work, we can help bring about Isaiah’s vision, we can create a world where people have a far greater chance of living lives of blessing and we can help ensure this vision is a reality far, far into the future.  This is a call to us all to stand together and, once and for all, declare that the apathetic excuse, “that’s just the way it is,” is no longer valid!

It won’t be easy though.  It’s going to take embracing change.  The same old same old just doesn’t cut it if we wish to follow the way of Christ.  It’s also going to take faith.

  • We can have faith that, as Isaiah says, God is creating a new heaven and earth and we’re invited to not only be a part of it but participate in it’s building.
  • We can have faith in the Gospel.  Jesus said that the realm of God has come near and I can’t help but think that what Isaiah speaks of sounds pretty close to what Jesus, too describes.
  • We can have faith in the wisdom of Jesus teachings.  All through this great progress:
    • is the command to love our neighbour as ourselves.
    • It’s a command that calls us to recognize that a child born in China is also cherished by his or her parents.  It’s recognition that every person alive, now and into the future is loved by God.
    • It’s recognition that we’re commanded to ensure that when we see to our own needs, we’re not depriving someone else of theirs.
    • All through this progress is also the command to love God.  When we stop worshipping the gods of wealth and greed and instead worship the one true God, the God of the widow, the outcast, the refugee, the child, amazing things can happen.

God is indeed creating a new heaven and earth, let us all embrace this change, and let the old world pass away.

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