Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you….Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip….Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord. All Kedar’s flocks will be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth will serve you; they will be accepted as offerings on my altar, and I will adorn my glorious temple. Who are these that fly along like clouds, like doves to their nests? Surely the islands look to me; in the lead are the ships of Tarshish, bringing your children from afar, with their silver and gold, to the honor of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor. Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you. Though in anger I struck you, in favor I will show you compassion. Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations—their kings led in triumphal procession. (Isaiah 60:1, 4, 6-11)
Over the past three weeks, we have seen Jesus appear to us first as creator, then as a carpenter, and last week, as a gardener.
Today, we look ahead to the final advent, where Jesus assumes his eternal throne as Christ the King.
The passage above is one of my favorite in all of Scripture. In this text, Isaiah is painting a prophetic vision of the “new Jerusalem” of Revelation 21 where “[God] will dwell among the people,” and Jesus will reign as king forever.
But pay attention to what else is happening in this scene. People from all nations are coming into the new Jerusalem, and they’re not coming empty-handed. The people of Tarshish are bringing their ships. The people of Midian and Ephah are bringing their livestock. The people of Sheba are bringing gold and frankincense. Jesus is inviting these people to bring their very best works of culture—“the wealth of the nations”—into his eternal Kingdom.
New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says in his book Surprised by Hope, “What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing…building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems…loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly…They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”
In other words, the work we do in between the first and final advent matters.
The Kingdom of Heaven is not devoid of culture. Based on this passage and other clues throughout Scripture, I’m willing to bet it is filled with it.
My prayer is that that hope will inspire us all to do our most exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others. And who knows? Maybe one day, Christus Rex—Jesus the King—will graciously take those creations and work them into our forever home.