Here we go again…

Nothing should surprise us.  That is the conclusion I reach after re-reading Isaiah 8 and 9 in a week leading up to the inauguration of America’s new TV-star President.  I have had to turn down the sound on my television, and avoid reading the paper at breakfast; between the content of the coverage and the manner that news outlets choose to cover the start of this presidency, it has been an unsettling time.  But that should not surprise us.

We should not be surprised for at least two reasons; first, the new president has been a very public person.  There has been plenty of chances for the world to see (and hear) his bluster and his nonsense.  He has been very transparent about who he is as a public figure; blunt, outspoken; prone to overstatement and always seeking the spotlight.  He is who he seems to be.

But the real reason we should not be surprised by what is happening suggested itself to me while I studied Isaiah in preparation for this morning.  History repeats itself – with alarming and often fatal regularity – because humans have been fairly consistent in their desire for power, and wealth.  we exercise those desires against other individuals, tribes and nations in predictable patterns of conquest.  We are who we are, and Isaiah is good at reminding us of that.

Isaiah covers a wide swath of the history of the Israelites – so wide that scholars have identified three different individuals writing as Isaiah – and in each section of this magnificent book, the prophet(s) point to the pattern of invasion – exile – and redemption as ‘just the way it is”.  That God desires something better for the people s undeniable.  That God’s promised peace is ‘just over the horizon’ is part of what makes Isaiah so attractive to us, generations after the fact.  But the truth contained in these ancient words is that nothing should surprise us about the way things are.

As I thought about “how things are” at he moment – as I tried to imagine why the words of Isaiah, both the challenging and the comforting, still felt so real, I had a vision – and I think it might have merit.

Imagine a large spring; coiled, flexible and full of potential energy – like the spring that pulls your screen door shut – only bigger.  This spring, in it’s natural, resting state is no harm at all – doing it’s job quite nicely, holding the door closed against the summer insects and neighbourhood cats.

When you pull that spring – apply force to it, it’s only reaction is to ‘snap back’ – to get to it’s resting state again.  You can force it open – put a chair in front of the door and sit in it, and keep the spring pulled open, but the minute you move that chair, the door snaps shut.

If you’re not careful, you can get your fingers pinched in that spring.  If the hook comes off the door, the spring jumps wildly back, and that can do some damage too…because springs are carriers of energy – springs transfer power – springs suffer manipulation, but they’re wonderfully resilient.

Imagine Creation is like a spring – resilient, full of potential.  The human influence on Creation is described for us in Scripture with a particular prejudice.  God grants humans responsibility over the health of all created things (Genesis 1 & 2) – but we don’t follow instructions very well.  Instead of being content with the Creation at rest – in it’s “natural state”, we can’t help but pull and stretch things  – sometimes from necessity, other times, out of curiosity.  Nations rise up against nations – the “spring is stretched and snapped” – generations are scarred and scattered by the expression of energy that is found in the cycle of war and peace and war again.  The powerful see Creation as a plaything,  and when they are through playing, the healing process might slowly begin, because history is delighted to repeat itself, and we should not be surprised.

The assyrians have taken hold of the spring in Isaiah’s time – trouble comes in the form of another angry neighbouring army – this from Isaiah chapter 8 – but the prophet knows the cycle cannot be sustained; “But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish…the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…” (Isaiah 9: 1-2)   The truth about Creation is that it is no ordinary spring – in danger of finally snapping under repeated stress – the promise of God is that there will be a return to rest.  The natural state of Creation is redemption.  So too, when Jesus combs the beach looking for people to follow him, he comes at a time when the Romans are stretching creation to its limits, and Jesus says come with me – I’ll change your focus – we’ll seek the Creation at rest – in redemption…

So if it’s not the imperial colonizers, or the nationalists, or the communists stretching creation to the limits it’s the capitalists and the egotists and the misogynists looking for leverage – and Isaiah’s words still hold true.  Jesus still calls us to stand away from the stretched ends of Creation – away from the deadly potential that is so destructive, both when the pressure is on and when the pressure is finally released, and the “spring” snaps suddenly back to rest.

The deadly nature of this metaphor caught Jesus in the crosshairs – pressure building through his arrest and trial – exploding in his execution.  But on the third day, when the pressure was off, redemption was recognized in his risen, wounded self.  The cycle complete, our hope restored, creation could breathe again.

Identifying such a cycle as I’m describing doesn’t give us permission to be complacent.  I’m still terribly unsettled by the powers that seem to be at work, to bring unnatural pressure to bear on the fabric of Creation – on the relationship between and among God’s creatures; Our fear and our faith requires that we proclaim the gospel – that we call attention to those pressures that put people at risk.  But know too that we’ve been here, as a species, before.  God’s preference – God’s privilege, is to see things “made new” and set at rest again.  And that should not surprise us either.


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