Hope–Living in the Future and the Present: a Reflection on Isaiah 11:1-10
Living in the hope of the future, yet being very present in the moment is important. George Santayana (1863-1952) writes, “There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.” The future is before us, yet it must compel us to live differently in the present. Such is enjoying the interval. Hope is the anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promises. This is the second Sunday in Advent. Advent anticipates the fulfillment of God’s promise of the Messiah.
One Sunday morning, a man woke up around 5 a.m., his wife and children still asleep. Glad to have time to himself, he went downstairs, brewed some coffee, and began to read the morning paper. Three sentences into an article, he saw his five-year-old daughter descending the stairs. He said, “Honey, go back to bed.” “But I’m not sleepy,” she insisted. Determined to read his paper, he again urged her to go back to bed. Again, she told him she was not tired. Looking down at the newspaper, he conceived a plan. In the paper was a picture of the world, which he cut into several pieces. Handing his daughter some Scotch tape, he instructed her, “Go sit in the dining room, and see if you can put the world back together.” His daughter accepted the challenge, and he went back to the kitchen to finish his coffee and read the paper. After only a few sips of his coffee, though, his daughter came bounding into the kitchen. “Here, Daddy, I’m finished!” she said, showing him the picture of the world put back together. Amazed, he asked, “Sweetie, how did you do that so fast?” She replied, “It was easy, Daddy. On the back side of the page was a picture of a man. When you make the man right, you make the world right.”
Similarly, as to the story just told, Jesus, the Messiah, Savior and Lord brings order to the world. He makes things right. Jesus offers salvation and hope to humanity. He came once and will return.
“Good is the enemy of great.” Beliefs and feelings are important. By choosing to take in the Word of God so that beliefs and feelings can be steadily pulled in a godly direction, we can discover a purpose for our future and present journey; a future and present journey which is bigger than fear, comfort, wealth, and any imagined success. In so doing, we move from good to great. To settle for good worship is to be the enemy of worship. To settle for good discipleship is to be the enemy of discipleship. To settle for good missional living is to be the enemy of missional living. To settle for a good staff is to be the enemy of the staff. To settle for a good relationship is to be the enemy of that relationship. To settle for a good family life is to be the enemy of family life. God is not a good God. God is a great God. Isaiah yearns for people to understand that to settle for good in their relationship with God is to become an enemy of God.
In Isaiah 11:1-10, Isaiah sets forth the vision for a new heaven and earth that makes a difference now. For Isaiah, God is enthroned above all, eternal, and deathless. God will carry out God’s every purpose. Isaiah’s vision brings hope. His future vision of the new kingdom of God and its Messiah points the way for generations to live more obediently to God. Solomon, Jesse’s grandson, might have seemed to be the fulfillment of the hope of David, but he fell far short of the divine ideal. The “shoot from the stump of Jesse” is Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Just like the Israelites, we cannot choose to change our beliefs and feelings. We can, however, choose to take in the Word of God and begin to experience transformation. God will accomplish God’s ways in us. We will be new creations. We are invited to participate in the unfolding of God’s future in the present.
Settling for mediocrity denies the future as promised by God. Mediocrity gets us stuck in the present without hope. Only seeing Jesus for who he truly is will make you right. By choosing to take in the Word of God so that beliefs and feelings can be steadily pulled in a godly direction, we move from good to great and become happy and content. Martin Thielen reminds us that “Contented people focus on living in the present moment. They know that life’s circumstances are never going to be perfect. So instead of chasing around the globe seeking the bluebird of paradise, they make the best out of their current circumstances and live fully in the present moment.” Happy and content people are motivated by hope. And they utilize it in the present. Happy and content people use trials as growth opportunities, cultivate optimism, focus on the present, practice forgiveness, practice generosity, nurture relationships, express gratitude, care for their bodies, and care for their souls.
Advent calls you to walk in the interval between birth and death with the future and present hope promised in the “shoot from the stump of Jesse,” Jesus Christ. Paul Simpson Duke, Co-Pastor at First Baptist Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan writes, “No transformation of nature can be envisioned apart from a new righteousness in human affairs, and the gift of a real Messiah will extend beyond redemption for humans to the emerging of a new creation. Seize your future hope to make a difference your present. Move from good to great.
George Santayana, “War Shrines,” Soliloquies in England and later Soliloquies, 1922.
Jim Collins, Good to Great (New York, New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 1.
Martin Thielen, Searching For Happiness (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 55.
The characteristics and practices of happy and content people gleaned from Martin Thielen, Searching For Happiness, 17.
Paul Simpson Duke in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 27.