There is too much to absorb in the weeks of Advent. The combination of Scripture, prayer and music seems to create an overload of material for reflection. Yesterday’s passage from Isaiah needed at least a Sunday by itself, but morning worship came with so much from the Bible, so much symbolism, so much to think about, that Isaiah’s words were past before there was time to consider them.
Isaiah Chapter 11 is a prophecy of a perfect age of peace and harmony. It includes the words:
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain
The prophet’s anticipation of a new world is reflected in the words of the Advent prayer used by Anglicans around the world:
Give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,
and put upon us the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which thy Son Jesus Christ
came to visit us in great humility;
that in the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty
to judge both the quick and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who liveth and reigneth with thee
and the Holy Spirit, now and ever.
It doesn’t say what the life immortal will include. What will heaven be like? A fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah, and what more?
A favourite poem, Charlotte Mew’s ‘Old Shepherd’s Prayer’, written in West Country dialect, has a vision of heaven unlike any other:
Heavenly Master, I wud like to wake to they same green places
Where I be know’d for breakin’ dogs and follerin’ sheep.
And if I may not walk in th’ old ways and look on th’ old faces
I wud sooner sleep.
What should my heaven include?
If it is not drinking tea at the fireside with Davey and Mary; if it is not standing with Noel at a country church door; if it is not Tom waltzing around a hospital ward; if it not laughter on a Wednesday afternoon with Ros and Rosalie, then I would sooner sleep.
If it is not the little ones who lived a short life, and the little ones who had no chance of life, growing up healthy and well, then I would sooner sleep.
If it is not a new world where the crops grow, and the mosquitoes hold no fear, and AIDS no longer exists, and drought is unknown, and every woman and man are rewarded for their labours, then I would sooner sleep.
If heaven is a place where the old shepherd wud sooner sleep, then I think I wud sooner join him. May it be a place where the wolf shall live with the lamb.