In Isaiah chapter 60, there is a vision of a city which includes representatives of the nations coming on camels bearing gold and frankincense (for this reason it is read during the Season of Epiphany, when we remember the bringing of gifts to the infant Jesus).
It is a city made beautiful by the immigration of many different people groups, bringing their resources, their skill, their particular traditions and solutions.
Indeed, it is a city rebuilt by a multicultural international community, after it has been deeply damaged and its population displaced as a result of international conflict.
It is a city free from security worries, because former enemies have become friends, and those who refuse to share in this vision of friendship and partnership have perished – not ‘are destroyed by the city’ but self-destruct, fail to reproduce, die out, their own vision of nationhood left abandoned.
It is a city at the heart of a nation surrounded by ally nations.
It is a city built on humbly receiving what others offer – recognising its dependence on others, as dependent as a breast-fed baby – not on arrogantly taking what belongs to others from them.
It is a city of divine light and glory.
It is not any existing city, but a city that could be. Isaiah imagines what Jerusalem, in ruins, could become, rising from the ashes. But it could equally be Paris, or London, or New York, or the cities of northern Nigeria, or northern England.
At the heart of the vision, God says that he will appoint Peace as their overseer and Righteousness as their taskmaster.
Allegorically, the city can refer to Christ (the one to whom representatives of the nations came, bearing gold and frankincense), to the one appointed by God to establish peace and righteousness. He is the Peaceful overseer and Righteous taskmaster, not imposed but given – not imposed but nonetheless appointed – to Jerusalem, and Paris and London and New York and the cities of northern Nigeria and northern England, for he has been revealed to all the peoples.
Living in peace doesn’t just happen, it needs to be worked on, needs to be built, painstakingly, with strong foundations, and quality material. Righteousness – living in right relationship with others – doesn’t just happen, but is hard work for which we need direction, and at times arbitration.
For peace and righteousness to flourish, I need to make my contribution, and so must you; and we must learn to value one another’s contribution. For peace and righteousness to flourish, my contribution must also be directed, and so must yours.
This isn’t a vision about imposing anything on anyone, but a vision of submitting ourselves, our gifts, how they might be deployed and who we might labour alongside, to the God-supported work of establishing and maintaining and expanding and sharing peace and righteousness.
And although it may sound naïve, it is a vision that has been fulfilled, albeit incompletely and temporarily, many times over, where people of different peoples have come together...