Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.
Is there any picture more romantically reminiscent than the elders sitting on their porches or stoops, rocking in porch swings, sipping a drink and talking and laughing and reveling in the evening? And as they do, children laugh, chasing each other in the streets, an impromptu game of baseball spills out of a front yard into the common area. Its almost Norman Rockwell-esque this image. It warms us in a way, and it has a tendency to harden us if we see this image as a hopeless fantasy.
God, through the prophet, offers this message of hope to His people. In a war torn, physically brutalized nation, filled with spiritual atrophy and failed good intentions, this promise was an oasis. In any place where there is neither old nor young, leaving only the middle, “adult”, age, there is a tendency for life to become an exercise in mere survival and mechanical function. Without those who have gone before us there is a vacuum of wisdom and experience. Without those little ones coming after us there is a loss of hope and vibrancy. Both age extremes bring something to life that is invaluable: perspective.
Today we live in a world where we have the ability through medical science to keep a baby alive outside of the womb at a historically unprecedented age. Likewise, we have become masters at extending and sustaining both length and quality of life the likes of which hasn’t been seen since before the Egyptian bondage of Israel. But even with these things being true we face an unprecedented attack in the way of marketing separation. With the prevalence of consumerism and greed we have seen the advent of intense age specific advertising and social structuring. Though there may be five people living in one house, representing three generations of a family, they may not know each other at all. Social splintering is an undermining tool that uses a feeling of loneliness to incite a desire to buy more stuff with the false promise that the stuff will cure the loneliness. It’s a vicious cycle that only ends when we re-integrate with other and thereby regain the perspective we had lost.
We are not divided through separation, we are now divided through re-identification. We are told through advertisements, age-specific television stations, and the glorification of fads and trends that we are all there is. We receive a persistent barrage of traits and qualities that we are supposed to emulate. This appeal is, incredibly, based on an underlying social assumption that we really already are these things, we just have to embrace them (“Be All That YOU Can Be”, “YOUR Way, Right Away”, “I want MY MTV”, “Obey YOUR Thirst”, etc…). There is a deplorable, though hard to recognize, arrogance in this way of thinking. The self-centered philosophical declaration of Protagoras, “man is the measure of things”, comes to mind.
The problem is not advertising. The problem is our response to it. If we ever begin to believe that we are alone in our own cultural moment, or that our problems are unique to our time, then we have fallen prey to one of the greatest enemies joy has: isolation. We would do well to stop, often, and look around us. In the middle of our stress, problems, issues, successes, and fears we will find that we are absolutely not alone. There is wisdom waiting for us to engage it, to hear the stories of yesterday and how our fathers and mothers and grandparents navigated the waters of life. There is energy and vibrancy dwelling in our children. They walk around the world like little human electrical receptacles waiting for us to “plug-in” and recharge.
God looked at a tired nation, His people, and made this promise: “you will not always exist in this isolation, your joy is coming. You will grow old, your children will have children, and the balance of life will be restored. I will be glorified in this, and you will find joy.” The New Testament indicates that God did this not only through families, but in a more profound way, through the church. The community of faith is designed to be more than a nebulous network of names and contacts and passing acquaintances. The church is our family. Distant cousins, crazy uncles, curmudgeonly grandparents, hyper nieces and nephews…the list goes on. We are not just individuals who have had a salvation experience, we are adopted members of the same family.
Let us not overlook the great joy of multi-generational life. May we drink deeply from the well of relationships that God has blessed us with in our faith families. May we weep with our family, laugh with our family, eat with our family, and love our family. May we take time to sit on the porch, let our children play, and acknowledge how good God has been to allow us to have each other.