For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the dadys of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord - and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent - its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
Our scripture reading this week comes from the prophet Isaiah. As a prophet, Isaiah spends a good amount of time speaking to the people on behalf of God. Often, he gives dire warnings filled with pessimistic proclamations about what will happen if the people do not change their wicked, unrighteous ways. Here, however, we have a shift of tone, as Isaiah begins to describe what the world will look like when God comes to rebuild, remake, and rework creation. These words of hope echo all the way into the book of Revelation as we see what will happen when God makes a new heavens and a new earth.
Of significance in this particular proclamation is not just the activity of God, but the way the people are invited to participate in that activity. We are invited to help in the creation of the kingdom of God and the mark of that participation is joy. As one author wrote, "The people of God should be a people of joy. God's people should be a delight to the world in which they live because they are working in hope of a new reality - a reality in which weeping in distress is a thing of the past."
We should be a people of joy not only for ourselves but for those around us. So what sparks joy in the kingdom of God? Isaiah addresses reduced infant mortality and the lengthening of life for elders. He speaks of fairness when it comes to work and enjoying the fruits of our labor. And most of all, he speaks of peace. Isaiah uses the striking description of animals who are natural enemies becoming friends and working together for the good of all - wolves and lambs, lions and ox, and as one cheeky author wrote, "might we add donkeys and elephants?"
What can we do now to actively spark more of the joy of God's kingdom in our daily lives, in our communities, in our churches? How can we work towards this kingdom Isaiah describes, where people no longer weep, where fairness and justice rules? We work towards these ideals not out of some naive hope or blind idealism, but because God has promised them to us. Let us people of joy in the world as it is and as it will be.
God, the originator and source of all our joy, help bring these sparks into our daily lives. Let us see with joy the kingdom around us, and seek with joy the changes we can make in our own lives and the lives of those around us to bring your kingdom one step closer. Help us to do all of this, in Jesus' name. Amen.