On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; he sets up victory like walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—in peace because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock. For he has brought low the inhabitants of the height; the lofty city he lays low.
He lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust. The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy. The way of the righteous is level; O Just One, you make smooth the path of the righteous.
Isaiah 26: 1-7
Reflection – I want to keep coming back to Scripture every few days in this ‘Advent blog calendar’ project. Like I said last time, Advent is above all the ‘season of the word’, the season of God’s promises, the time to look at what God has told us is so now, and what will be in the future so that very simply we can build our lives on those truths.
Here we see the Lord offering us the way to heal one of the great wounds, one of the great sorrows of the human condition marked by sin. That is, the wound of insecurity. We are all, from birth, plunged into a world marked at least somewhat by danger, risk, violence. Bad things happen all the time; something bad could happen to you and yours… today.
Or maybe not. Probably not… but maybe… and so it goes. A dreadful insecurity assails us. Now most people don’t dwell on such things. We have to get on with the business of living, after all. We’re not all running around quaking in fear. But for the most part that is a survival tactic – all that living in a state of constant anxiety and fear does to us is impede our ability to make sensible choices, and thus make it more likely that we will indeed end up in a bad way.
The fact is, most people enjoy security at the price of some engagement with reality. The simple truth is, any bad horrible thing could happen to you or to someone you love at any time. And there is a terrible wound in the human psyche, the wound of insecurity, that drives quite a bit of our behaviour and wreaks quite a bit of havoc.
For example, avarice or greed comes out of insecurity. The world is a dangerous place, so you better hoard as much of the world’s goods to yourself. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? Lust and gluttony also come out of fear, often. Let’s grab that pleasure of the stomach or the bed while we can – eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die!
Anger, too, and in fact all of the ‘deadly sins’ have a strong root in fear, in a settled conviction that the world is a bad, scary place, and so we better do all we can to secure our own little bit of life within it for as long as we can.
Well, God offers us something better. He offers us a strong city, a safe bulwark, a place of peace and of real refuge. Now this prophecy is being given in a time of almost ceaseless war and peril. The Assyrians are camping at the gates of Jerusalem, and there is not a soul alive in Judah who is not quaking in fear. Don’t forget that in the ancient world war was not fought by drones and fighter planes and remote controls, or off on carefully regulated battlefields. A warring army came into the village, the town, the city, and killed everyone and burnt everything down. That was ancient warfare. Pretty scary stuff.
And here’s Isaiah singing away about bulwarks and rocks and peace. What is he, a kook? A dreamer? A snake oil salesman? The prophecy in the immediate context told them what in fact would happen—that Jerusalem would be spared the Assyrian conquest. But in that, the much larger, much greater plan of God to heal our fear is revealed.
It is God, and placing our trust in Him, and finding our life in Him, and turning to Him for our happiness, our security, our needs, that heals fear. When we no longer look to our possessions, including the ‘possession’ of our loved ones, but to the One who possesses us, and find in that the only security we seek or need, then we live in an unshakeable peace.
A natural disaster or an unnatural criminal can come in and do their worst to us… it will be suffering and hard, but underneath, peace. And here and now, in whatever relative security we enjoy, we can live lightly and without anxiety, if we know that the one city that is our home, the one rock which we stand on, the one wall that cannot fall down, is the love and mercy of our God and his faithful presence and promise in our lives. And that is the healing of all fear, all insecurity, all anxiety… if we can place all our trust and hope in that and in nothing else.