Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 – Oaks of Righteousness

sunset oak

Reflecting and Doing

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendour.

Let’s make an ‘Oak of Righteousness’. While this might sound like a children’s activity, it is important to have all ages involved. We are all needed for this task.

You will need:

  • corrugated cardboard – three 60cm squares or thereabout
  • craft paper in a range of greens and browns
  • pencils and scissors
  • glue sticks

One square will form the base. You can write the verse on it, if you like. Cut a mushroom shape from each of the other two squares to form the tree. On one mushroom, make a slot from the top to halfway down the shape. The slot should be the same width as the thickness of the card. Make a similar slot from bottom to half way up the other piece. These should now slot together to make a 3D tree.

Distribute paper, pens and scissors and ask all ages of people to draw around their hands and cut out the shapes. They can write their names on if they like.

Use dark brown shapes as roots around the base of the tree. Make sure that the roots spread widely. If you need to secure the tree to the board you can glue some roots to the trunk and base. Glue the lighter browns and greens  on the top part of the mushroom as branches and leaves.

Pondering

Christmas comes but once a year – starting in late August. If you’re anything like me you’re probably getting fed up with endless adverts for presents. And the weirdest ones are usually for perfume. It’s understandable – until someone invents smelly-vision, selling a scent is tricky. So we end up with bizarre, dream-like ads featuring sultry women and diamond chandeliers or hunky men with open shirts fluttering in the ocean breeze – all filmed in arty black-and-white, of course.

I think it’s called ‘aspirational’ advertising. Rather than tell me about the product, they show me the lifestyle to which (they think) I aspire, and imply that by buying their product I will either turn into said sultry woman / hunky man, or that said sultry woman / hunky man will come knocking on my door. Hmmn.

We have some similar ‘aspirational’ images in the text today – except with fewer sultry women and not currently 50% off while stocks last.

These are great words – we’ve heard them lots of times before, and they are the words that Jesus chose to read at the start of his earthly ministry. So if nothing else that’s a reason to pay close attention. But …

I hate to point it out …

I mean, I don’t want to be the one to burst the bubble, but …

It hasn’t actually happened, has it? You know, the crown of beauty, the oil of joy, the garment of praise and all that. When I look around I see a world that’s still got  lot of ashes.

So what happened? Did God get it wrong? Let’s have a look at the context.

The kingdom of Judah had been conquered by the local super-power, the Babylonians and many Jews taken into exile. Earlier chapters in Isaiah speak of an anointed one, a ‘Messiah’, who would come to rescue God’s people from captivity (that’s the ‘Comfort ye, my people’ from chapter 40) and this was fulfilled when Cyrus, king of Persia defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return home. (Of course, from an AD point of view, we also see Jesus as a greater saviour, the ultimate Messiah who rescues us from a much greater captivity.)

These words in chapter 61 were written later, when the Jews were returning home, rebuilding the ancient ruins and restoring the places long devastated. But all was not sweetness and light. Perhaps they were expecting perfume-ad perfection. ‘Finally’, they thought, ‘our God has rescued us, and we can return to the land of promise, and it’ll all be wonderful’. Yeah. Right.

Look at the text. Why would God be promising good news to the poor if it were not presently bad news? Why would all who mourn need comforting if there were none mourning? It sounds a lot like our present world – broken-hearted, ruined cities, captives, those who grieve. It could be today’s headlines. So what went wrong? God promised this in Isaiah’s day and again in Jesus’ day and he speaks it to us today. So when is it going to happen? Is it just a load of hollow, pretty words that look good on a poster of a sunset?

I don’t think so, no. Though perhaps it is not so ‘fait accompli’ as I’d would like it to be.

You see, it’s all to do with those darned perfume ads. If only it were that simple – you spray on the Lynx and girls fall at your feet. I douse myself in ‘Eau d’Arnette’ and Colin Firth swings by in an Aston Martin with chocolate and flowers … sorry, I drifted off for a moment there. Reality, sadly, is a bit more messy.

For Isaiah’s first audience, the arrival of king Cyrus, the Lord’s anointed, should have made everything perfect. Their land was restored, they could worship God in peace and live happily ever after. Reality was a bit more messy. When Jesus read these words and announced himself as the ultimate Messiah, surely that made everything perfect? With the saving work of the Son we all live sinless lives to the glory of the Father in the power of the Spirit he gave, yes? Reality is a bit more messy.

I think there’s a clue in an oft-overlooked verse right in the middle:

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.

Oaks are slow-growing, solid trees that weather all kinds of storms, droughts and heat. If they have a good root system, you’d be hard-pushed to shift an oak. And that what God wants us to be. Oaks. For the display of his splendour. Growing through the messiness of life, displaying the splendour of a life lived with God, with all the lumpy, grubby, grotty bits.

God arranged release from Babylon, but the people still needed to do their part. It’s they will rebuild, and they will renew. The people, not God. And I don’t know about you, but there’s plenty needs rebuilding and renewing in my life and around me. There are still those who mourn, still the poor, still the captives. And until this passage reaches its final fulfilment, as we read in Rev 21, we have some work to do.

It’s more about growing strong and battling the storms, not spraying on an instant solution to all ills, no matter what the perfume ads may say. Sorry, Lynx.

Reading

Isaiah 61:1-4 New International Version

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

“For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.

Credits

New International Version (NIV)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 


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