Day Twenty-Three of “Through Advent with Isaiah”
The first reading on Christmas Day (the third Eucharist of Christmas), from the Hebrew scriptures, is (no surprise) from Isaiah.
7 How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’
8 Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
9 Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God. – Isaiah 52.7-10
In the context of Second Isaiah this announces the return of Yahweh to Jerusalem. Klaus Baltzer in his 2001 commentary believes that the structure is like that of a sunrise. First the mountains sees the sunlight, then the sentinels on the ruins of Jerusalem, and then the whole of the earth. He feels that this is an appropriation of the sun cult criticized by the author’s exiled contemporary, Ezekiel:
16 And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord; there, at the entrance of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces towards the east, prostrating themselves to the sun towards the east. 17Then he said to me, ‘Have you seen this, O mortal? Is it not bad enough that the house of Judah commits the abominations done here? Must they fill the land with violence, and provoke my anger still further? See, they are putting the branch to their nose! – Ezekiel 8.16-18
Whereas Ezekiel condemns it and regards it as the cause of the downfall of Judah (among many other blasphemies), Isaiah subverts the cult and assumes it into the worship of Yahweh, from whom all things come. This is echoed in Third Isaiah:
1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
The passage in chapter 52 is filled with sound:
- the messenger
- announces peace
- announces salvation
- says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.
- the sentinels
- lift up their voices
- they sing for joy
- the ruins of Jerusalem
- break forth together into singing
The victory has been won. There is no more war, it seems, for God has bared his arms, and God’s people have been comforted. The ends of the earth have seen the salvation of God; in the original Hebrew the word translated here as “salvation” is יְשׁוּעַ֥ת (yesh-u-et), which might be more simply rendered as “help”.
Likewise מְבַשֵּׂ֗ר (mi-basher) which is here “who brings good news” might be translated as “who brings news” – the “good” is implied, and in other uses of the verb elsewhere, it is any kind of tidings or news. That said, the Septuagint translated it ὡς εὐαγγελιζόμενος ἀγαθά os evangelizomenos agatha “as one preaching good news”, and it if you see the word “evangel” in the Greek you see the origin of the words “evangelism”, “evangelist”, and “evangelical” – all rooted in “good news”.
This is why it is used on Christmas morning. It is the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ that is being proclaimed. The kingdom of God is brought near in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and made real in the lives of his followers by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We live in the ruins of old Jerusalem. We sense that we are exiles from a golden age that upon examination, never really was. Nevertheless, we are strangers in a strange land. Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God, and God is found preeminently in the revelation of Jesus. And so we rest in Christ, who explodes every category we might apply to him, and we find that our joy is in conformity to who he is, and in becoming like him.
This brings us to the end of this passage through Isaiah in Advent. Thank you to those who have been following along and to everyone who visits. May the glory of the one born in Bethlehem shine on you in the midst of this dark world, and give comfort and help.