Just returned from exile to the land of their dreams the people of Israel are confronted with a harsh reality. There are other people living in their homes, the ruins of their cities and the temple are overgrown with weeds, there are wolves on the prowl and mountain lions snatch lambs from their flock, and children from their cots. There are kafuffles going on with the neighbours who do not welcome them at all. Houses are put on fire in the night, fields are damaged when there is nobody watching, harvests mysteriously disappear, wells are poisoned. Life in other words at that time was probably very much like it is in Palestine at the moment. People have returned after some 60 years of exile to find others living in their houses, harvesting their lands. Others that will not give up what they consider their land and territory now without a fight. And even with the powers of Babylons resettling agencies behind them, those who have returned have to put up a struggle.
It is in that context Isaiah writes down those very strong and compelling images, dreams, visions of another world and other times to come. Full of forceful faith that God is not finished yet, that this is not where the people of Israel will finally run into the ground and be done with, that this is not the end.
Hope against hope, dreaming dreams that are in stark contrast with reality.
Reflecting on the passage this week my thoughts went to people that I have met in ministry over the years who have told me stories of survival.
Stories of people who had managed to keep body and soul together in extreme life and sanity threatening situations. Situations that seemed without any hope and didnt have any discernible perspective of getting better at the time. Stories of people who had survived the camps in Auschwitz and Dachau during the holocaust. Stories of survivors of child sexual abuse.
What kept them alive, what kept them sane, was the dream of a different time, a different reality being as valid as the reality they were in, not in any way representing the horrifying reality they were in when the suffering was at its worst.
Dream not in the sense of a day dream, a rosy picture of what they would like the world to be like, a flight from the reality they were in to something far out of reach but lovely and soothing to dream about nevertheless. But the conviction that the world as it presented itself to them at the moment of suffering was an aberration that could never be accepted as the norm or the end of all reality.
Its that what kept coming back to my mind when I considered what this dream, this vision of Isaiah could mean for us today. And I think that it is this:
When we dream with Isaiah of a new heaven and a new earth, of the wolf lying with the lamb, of the Lion gone vegetarian, when we dream of a world where there will be nobody that hurts or destroys, where children live to be a hundred and nobody dies before their time, where houses arent burned down or taken away for others to live in, it is not a temporary flight from reality into a rosy unrealistic but very attractive picture to sooth the pain and hurt of a world where things are very much different away.
Its not saying "I am sure things will work out" in a situation where there doesnt seem to be much else to say because all seems hopeless.
It is letting the conviction take root, deep down inside, that the way things are, the way the world seems to be, is not what the world ultimately is, because the dream in a sense is more real and solid and lasting in what it says about reality than the way reality presents itself to us at the moment.
In Dachau where brutality and violence was about as bad as it can get, holding on to the conviction that this was an aberration from reality that could only be temporary kept people alive.
I think in the world today we need that same firm conviction: That what is happening today in many places all over the world is an aberration. An aberration that is waiting to be dissolved for a new heaven and a new earth as it is described in Isaiah. That the dream is an unseen reality waiting around the corner, rather than a fantasy that will never come about.
People killing each other off for all sorts of reasons, children dying before their time, all the horrific things that people do to other people, they are not "normal", and they can never be. Because "normal" is what Isaiah describes in his dream. And that normal is what should be determining our norms when we look at the world live our lives and make our decisions. There is another world out there, a saner reality than the one we live in and we only have to walk towards it for it to change our lives here and now.
The new heaven, the new earth, an end to hurt and destruction. Thats where were going, that is the point the compasses of our lives should be gravitating towards. That should be the norm for a "normal" world. Thats what we should hold on to. Amen.