Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 21:1-4) transports me to a desert sandstorm blowing dire news to the prophet, foretelling the end of the global balance of powers as he knew it. It is interesting how Isaiah prequels Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24, when he told the disciples that nation would rise against nation, and that it would be the beginning of birth pangs. What Jesus’ followers hoped for, Isaiah dreaded. He foresaw traitors traiting and looters looting and treachers treaching. The vision was at once bewildering, staggering, and he was seized like a woman in the throes of labor. He didn’t have the foresight to see that the newborn world left to carry on could be better than the one soon to be dead and gone.
Sometimes I wonder if we don’t get too familiar with the world as we know it, with the privileges, the benefits, the advantages, the lifestyles that afford us so many comforts. When that world gets threatened, when the sands start to swirl around us and the foundations start to shift beneath our feet, I wonder if we don’t feel more like Isaiah than the disciples, bewildered by the thoughts of such staggering changes on the horizon. Isaiah trembles with fear, and in a compelling but somewhat enigmatic line, he says, the twilight I longed for has become a horror to me. He was longing for a twilight, for a sunset to the age of imperial assumptions that had corrupted the people of faith, but this wasn’t the twilight he dreamed of. His line reminds me of a presidential campaign debate 30 years ago, when Ronald Reagan took on Jimmy Carter. Carter had made a speech challenging the malaise of the nation, critiquing what he saw as a faltering moral foundation. Reagan challenged Carter on this, and gave a positive forecast to the country’s future, saying that it was sunrise in America, not twilight. Thirty years later, we can ask, who was right? Has our culture been getting progressively better, or progressively worse, over the past 30 years?
Here’s another way of asking the question: Are we as a society moving more toward the disturbing world of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games, or toward the romantic world of Bella and Edward in Stephanie Myers’ Twighlight series? It’s no surprise that both of these bloody stories quickly got into the bloodstream of youth and adult culture. This fascination with stories laced with blood should be a reminder to followers of Jesus. We have a different blood story to tell, a sanguine saga of vital power that cleanses and works wonders. It is an anemic faith that doesn’t include a vision of old worlds laid low and new creations brought forth. But the twilight we embrace and enact is neither horror nor romance; it is a dramatic documentary of the emergence of a new community in a land that knows no parting, as only brother Willie could sing.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.