It's that time when again when our church magazine hits the stands and both excited readers pore over its contents. Anyway, here's my perspective in the dark days of winter longing for spring...
In the depths of winter, you can often overhear people longing for lighter evenings and warmer days; at the bedside of a loved one, we ache for things for be different; in the tents outside St Paul’s, there’s a call for a better world; on the streets of Syria’s cities, the cry for freedom and justice grows louder despite the tank shells and bullets.
Everywhere, it seems, there is the ache for a new world. We hear it in the parents raising money for their child to receive experimental life-saving treatment only available at great cost in a far-away place. We hear it in the worker whose pay packet will not stretch to cover all the bills this month. We hear it in the middle-aged whose lives are cut short by an unexpected illness or accident. We hear it in the child drinking dirty water because there’s nothing else to slake her thirst.
And we hear it in the bible.
There’s a great moment in the movie Evan Almighty where Morgan Freeman, playing God, takes the hapless Evan, a weatherman, to show him what the Californian valley he lives in looked like when God first created it. It convinces Evan that the Freeman character really is God but leaves him perplexed. ‘Why me?’ he asks. ‘Because you want to change the world,’ God replies, ‘and so do I’
Martin Luther King expresses the same urge this way: ‘We are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.’
In Isaiah 65, the prophet gives voice to God’s dream: ‘“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind…Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out their years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat…My chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labour in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune. [Isaiah 65:17-25].
It’s a wonderful vision of people at peace, families enjoying the fruit of their labour, ill health banished, hunger a memory. It’s a dream that appears in the New Testament as well. Many of its themes are taken up in the final chapters of Revelation. But the sentiment echoes through Romans 8 where Paul sees the journey to glory and new creation passing through a vale of tears and sorrow.
We ache for a new world, says the apostle, because we’ve tasted it through our faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit, that messenger of the world to come, has taken up residence in our lives and now sings the song of that new world even as we struggle with this one. It is the Spirit’s song that fills our hearts with the hope that what we ache for will become a reality in God’s good time.
And so, we don’t only ache for the new world; we actively work for it now. We add our voice to the cries for freedom and justice echoing round the world. we feed the hungry and house the homeless, care for the young and elderly, create meaningful and fulfilling work for all people to enjoy because these things are foretaste of the new world God is dreaming.
All our Good works – those things that God has prepared beforehand for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10) – point to what God is doing in the shadows, what he has unleashed through the cross, resurrection and enthronement of his King, Jesus, and the pouring of his Spirit on the church. We become his partners in redemption through our lives lived in accordance with the values we see in Jesus.
The trouble is that often we don’t look to see what God is doing. We see only the brokenness and despair around us that sometimes takes hold of our spirits and persuades us that life will always be like this until it stops. And the trouble is that because we’re not sure what we should be doing or that our good works could really make a difference, we sit on our hands and do nothing.
But God is in the ache we feel for a new world. And however much we can’t see how it will come about, deep down we know that the God who met us Jesus Christ, forgave and made us new, will bring that new world into being. Deep down we know that one day we will be whole, living in a renewed creation of heart-stopping and wonderful beauty. God has said it will be so and, even in our darkest moments, we can’t but believe him. And it is that tiny mustard seed of faith that gives us the strength we need to press on.
So, spring is coming, the evenings are getting lighter, the mornings warmer, the sap is rising and God’s Kingdom bursts out in unlikely ways pointing us forward to the future being dreamt up in the Father heart of God. And doesn’t it fill us with hope until we’re fit to bust!