I’ve been thinking and writing a lot lately about how most contemporary conceptions about God are too small. The readings this week, as we settle into the hope and expectation of Advent, remind me that the same can be said for common ideas about salvation.
For there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. There is nothing that God does not want to save.
Early on in this blog, in what has become one of the most consistently popular posts here, I wrote about the different metaphors in the Scriptures for sin. I concluded there that we need to be able to embrace “the richness of those meaty biblical metaphors — missing the mark, impaired boundaries, debt, a meandering path, loose screws, and so many more — that help us to see clearly where change needs to happen and draw us into better lives and better relationships.”
The biblical images for salvation are equally varied and meaty. They aren’t just about the forgiveness of sins and salvation from eternal torment. Rather, they describe a situation in which every possible way things are wrong in the world will be righted. This is a consistent pattern of the Hebrew prophets’ proclamation of the Day of the LORD — a proclamation that Jesus not only embraced as his own but declared he was fulfilling in his own life, death, and resurrection.
Today’s reading from Isaiah is not one of the more famous of his oracles we read this time of year. And yet it offers a truly beautiful and all-encompassing vision of God’s reign. It includes:
- Fertility returning to barren soil
- Forests reclaiming land previously cleared for agriculture
- Hearing for the deaf
- Sight to the blind
- Joy for the humble and downtrodden
- Honor for the dishonored people of God
- Understanding for those who err; and
- A desire to learn for those who grumble.
The flip side of this vision includes:
- The overthrow of tyrants
- The silencing of the cynical and scoffing
- The cutting off of those who bend the law to their will, who abuse those who stand up for the poor, or who deny justice to the one in the right.
We hear some of these images (hearing for the deaf, sight to the blind, the overthrow of unjust judges) so often that we can become numb to how beautiful and transformative they are, especially in their cultural context. But some of these images get far less attention.
God’s Kingdom is described by such concepts as reforestation, anti-desertification, joy, the removal of shame, the silencing of cynics and people who use the law for their own gain instead of for justice, and a beginner’s mind for those who grumble about learning! This is astounding!
The big, beautiful, all-encompassing tie that binds these things together is simply this: God’s salvation is whatever is needed to right a wrong, to heal a wound, to restore what has been lost.
What a powerful thing to be reminded of this first week of Advent, the season when we join all creation in its groaning and longing for what God is about to do.
O come, O come, Emmanuel!
Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done!
Marana tha! O Lord, come soon!