Advent III – Isaiah 12:1-6

Jimmy JoAdvent, Isaiah, SermonsLeave a Comment

Our passage today is from the lectionary for the third Sunday of Advent.  We are reading from Isaiah 12:1-6.

12:1 In that day you will say:

“I will praise you, Lord.
    Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
    and you have comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
    from the wells of salvation.

In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done,
    and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
    let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
    for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

Isaiah 12:1-6

The book of Isaiah is one of the more important Old Testament books for the New Testament writers.  In particular, you might remember that Isaiah came up quite a lot when we read through the book of Matthew.  And as you probably know, part of the reason for this is that significant parts of the book of Isaiah speak about (or have been interpreted to speak about) the Messiah, who is revealed in the gospels to be Jesus Christ. 

Now we’re not going to spend much time breaking down the book of Isaiah but we’ll touch base on a couple of points. 

It may be important to know (if you’re interested in this kind of thing) that scholars, as they often do, don’t universally agree as to the makeup of the book of Isaiah.  We’re not going to get into questions of authorship or historicity, but broadly speaking, there is a recognition that there are two main sections to Isaiah.  In this framework, Chapters 1-39 are referred to as First Isaiah or Proto-Isaiah; and chapters 40-66 are considered Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah. 

This distinction is made because chapters 1-39 (First Isaiah) deal primarily with Israel and Judah’s (the two kingdoms had separated by this point) conflict with Assyria – that is, the Assyrian conquest. 

Chapters 40-66 deal primarily with the Babylonian exile. 

Now there is also a school of thought that further divides Second Isaiah into Second and Third Isaiah.  According to this theory, chapters 56-66, or Third Isaiah, were actually written after the return from exile.

Again, we’re not going to get into the intricacies of these.  It actually is important to keep in mind because how we read the text depends a lot on the historical setting.  Nevertheless, I want to move on.  One of the key themes that we see in Isaiah (as a whole) is the notion of the holiness of God.  This is set in contrast with (more themes) the sinfulness, rebelliousness, and idolatry of Israel (here, I use the term “Israel” to refer to the people of God as opposed to the kingdom of Israel.  I note this because the book of Isaiah actually focuses more on the kingdom of Judah, and Jerusalem in particular).  This then (the sinfulness of the people) sheds light on the theme of judgement throughout the book.  That is, because of the sinfulness of the people, judgement is required and delivered by a holy God (this should come as no surprise – we should recognize this from our survey of the Old Testament).  However, in spite of the judgement, God remains faithful and promises deliverance for His people (yet more themes founds in Isaiah). 

Now there are other important themes and motifs.  These include things like the Remnant of the Lord (i.e. God will not destroy/judge the people totally, but will save a remnant), the Suffering Servant, and etc.  But I want to stop there because what we are looking at today is chapter 12:1-6.  And the particular themes that I want to pick up here are those of Judgement and Deliverance. 

Again, our passage for today says: 

12:1 In that day you will say:

“I will praise you, Lord.
    Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
    and you have comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
    from the wells of salvation.

In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done,
    and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
    let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
    for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

Isaiah 12:1-6

Now according to Iain Provan, Chapters 2-12 constitute a unity in the first part of Isaiah.  In short, Provan argues that chapters 2:1-5 and chapters 12 (vv.1-6, our passage today) bracket the rest of this section (Provan argues that chapter 1 serves as prologue or thematic summary of the book).  Chapter 2:1-5, for reference, says: 

2 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
    let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2:1-5

Now in between this passage (2:1-5) and our passage (chapter 12:1-6), are a series of oracles and a couple of sections of narrative that essentially talk about judgement (though this is an over-simplification).  In other words, we get chapter after chapter of how Israel rejected God, even though God has been always good and faithful to Israel.   Again, this is an over-simplification of these passages, but essentially what we’re seeing in 2:1-5 and 12:1-6 is that God’s kingdom, and God’s salvation, envelops all of it.  Even in spite of the judgement on Israel, that judgement which is because of the sin of Israel, God remains faithful and His promises will prevail.  Using Provan’s words, Hope has the last word. 

This is what I hope we can focus on this Advent season.  Hope.  That is, I hope we can focus on Hope.  As we continue this Advent season, and as we approach Christmas, I want to think about this passage and the story in Isaiah and focus on a few things. 

Firstly, the passage in Isaiah continues the story of Israel.  We should be quite familiar with the story of Israel by now – at least in broad strokes and up to the time of the Judges (though I’m sure most of you are familiar with much more than that).  But one of the repeating motifs that we see in Israel’s story is that of sin or failure and redemption or hope.  Israel keeps sinning, keeps forgetting or ignoring God, and keeps finding themselves in a terrible situation – a situation that is very much not in keeping with what being “the people of God” is supposed to be.  And yet, God keeps coming to their rescue; He keeps moving forward with His plan to redeem humanity and redeem the world. 

Here in the story, the time addressed in First Isaiah, many years after the time of King David, Israel has fractured into the Northern kingdom of Israel and the Southern kingdom of Judah.  The Assyrian Empire looms large over their existence and deports the people – a typical tactic of the time which serves to assimilate conquered peoples and weaken or effectively destroy their nationhood. 

It is a low point for Israel.  Probably the lowest in their history as the people of God.  In the midst of their suffering, they cannot see God and they can (probably) barely remember the promises of God.  Make no mistake, their situation is of their own doing – a result of their sin, idolatry, and human ambition – but that makes the suffering no less real. 

And into that situation, God speaks.  God speaks through Isaiah to remind them that God is continuing His mighty works.  God is continuing His plan of redemption and that plan will come to fruition, even from out of this sinful nation.  In chapter 10, God says that Assyria, Israel’s oppressor will be judged.  In chapter 11, we hear that

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1-3

And in chapter 12, we hear: 

12:1 In that day you will say:

“I will praise you, Lord.
    Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
    and you have comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
    from the wells of salvation.

In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done,
    and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
    let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
    for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

Isaiah 12:1-6

Therefore, the first thing that I would like us to focus on this Advent season is that no matter how bad things seem to have gotten – no matter how far the people have fallen into sin – God’s work will be done, God’s kingdom will come, God’s hope can be ours. 

The second thing to reflect on is the discrepancy between the book of Isaiah and the gospel revelations.  What I mean by this is that the book of Isaiah was written (spoken) to a pretty specific historical situation – as we briefly discussed, it was written to several specific historical situations (the Assyrian captivity, the Babylonian exile, and perhaps post-Exilic Israel).  So, for example, our passage today deals specifically with God dealing with Israel’s situation with the Assyrians.  But in the time between Isaiah and Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, after the return from exile, people recognized that their situation wasn’t actually all that much better.  The people had returned from the Babylonian exile, but Israel was still not its own nation.  They still hadn’t seen the promises of God fully fulfilled.  Scriptural scholars in this time began to see in Isaiah more than what was said just about the historical situation.  They began to realize that God was talking about something more. 

So when we get to the gospel writers, we realize that the fullness of God’s promises that we read about in Isaiah are only fully fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  In other words, as the writer of Hebrews says, “13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”  In yet other words, the fullness of God’s promises were yet to come. 

And we know that we, though we live on the other side of Christ’s coming, we are also waiting still for the fullness of God’s kingdom.  There is a fullness of God’s promises that we have yet to see.  There is a hope that is still coming. 

Now this may not be of great comfort to some of us.  Because we want comfort now.  We want the promises now.  We are suffering, we are struggling, and we are waiting and we are hoping, but we are tired.  But the promise of God is that this is not the end of the story.  To repeat what Provan says about this passage in Isaiah, in God, Hope has the last word. 

And the third and final thing that I’d like us to reflect on this Advent season is a bit of a departure from this Isaiah passage, but I think it’s pointed at, at least hinted at in other places in Isaiah, and certainly in our understanding of the Messianic promises in Isaiah.  And it’s an important theme in the celebration of Advent.  Specifically, I’m speaking of the fact that the promises of God’s redemption that are spoken of in Isaiah are fulfilled in the person of Jesus.  And more specifically, I’m speaking of the fact that they are fulfilled in the human person of Jesus.  The hope of God is fulfilled in the incarnated Christ.

Hebrews 4:15 tells us: 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

Hebrews 4:15

That is to say, Jesus is fully God and fully human.  The story of Christmas tells us that Jesus came to earth, born of a woman, as a human baby.  He grew up, ate, slept, suffered, laughed, ministered, died, and rose again, as a human.  We don’t believe that He only appeared human or that He was only partially human, but that He was fully human. 

In other words, though He was born and remained without sin, Jesus entered fully into our condition.  Jesus entered into and participated (that is, He lived) fully in our world, in our existence, in what it means to be human. 

Now we know this theologically, or at least we should.  But what it means is that God, and therefore God’s promises, are not some cosmic, supra-spiritual, “pie-in-the-sky” idea.  God is not detached; God is not an abstract.  Rather, God, in Jesus, became flesh, entered into history, and became as one of us.  The hope that we have in God, through Jesus, because of Jesus, is an earthly, fleshly, human, and here kind of hope. 

Whenever we talk about eschatology – when we talk about our eschatological hope, for example – we can get the idea that it is something far off.  And there’s certainly that aspect of it.  But what I want to suggest is that Jesus’ incarnation points to the present-ness of God. 

So as we continue in Advent, as we approach Christmas, I’m not really sure how people are feeling about it.  I’m not sure if it seems harder this year to celebrate, harder to prepare, and harder to find joy.  But I suspect that it is for some of us.  I suspect that some of us are finding it harder, this year, to find God in the midst of everything.  If I’m right about that, and some of us are feeling that way, I want to point you to Isaiah.  I want to remind you of the promises of God, in which we can truly find our hope.  And I want to remind you that God’s hope is fully and finally found in Jesus.  And because of God’s great love for us, because of God’s determination to restore all that has gone wrong, we know that our story is not over.  Because of God’s great love for us, Christ has come and Christ will come again.

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