Advent 3C

December 07, 2015

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Luke 3:7-18

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Zephaniah 3:14-20

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Isaiah 12:2-6

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    Note: During Advent the Lectionary occasionally appoints other readings in place of a Psalm.

    This is Isaiah’s song of praise to the Lord for being his salvation.  It lies at what J. Ross Wagner calls a “crucial juncture in the book of Isaiah.”  Our text, after all, ends the opening section of his prophecy in which Isaiah has spoken of God’s judgment and cleansing of Israel.  It also follows the prophet’s announcement of eschatological deliverance and restoration.  Isaiah 12, however, also points ahead in the prophecy.  It anticipates the prophet’s message of deliverance and comfort in chapters 40-55.

    In our text Isaiah thanks God that while God has been rightly angry with Israel, God has graciously replaced that anger with mercy.  In many ways that’s the very kernel of the whole gospel.  Human rebellion against God angers the Lord.  Yet in Jesus Christ God has replaced God’s anger with mercy.

    This offers those who preach and teach Isaiah 12 an opportunity to reflect on human perceptions of God.  People, after all, naturally worship not the living God as revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, but the kind of God we imagine and create.  So few people naturally think that God ever gets angry.  Most can only imagine that God is always merciful.

    In verse 2 Isaiah affirms that God is his “salvation.”  Salvation is a prominent theme in this text.  The prophet, after all, mentions it three times in verses 2-3.  What’s more, the name “Isaiah” essentially means “the Lord is my salvation.”  So even the prophet’s very name stands as a kind of testimony to God’s amazing grace.  On top of that, his patient, hopeful trust in the Lord also served as a kind of sign to rebellious Israel.

    Because God is Israel’s rescue, Isaiah asserts that Israel can both trust in God and not be afraid (2).  Fear is, of course, the natural human response in the face of threats.  People can’t muster trust in the face of danger.  So trust is God’s gracious gift to those who are afraid.

    Echoing Israel’s song on the far side of the Red Sea after God caused the waters to swallow up her Egyptian pursuers, Isaiah sings, “The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”  In doing so, the prophet links the salvation about which he sings to Israel’s earlier salvation from both Egyptian slavery and Pharaoh’s chasing army.  This helps to draw lines from Israel’s Exodus to her coming return from exile.  Isaiah basically implies that despite Israel’s chronic unfaithfulness, God will again show himself faithful by again granting her an “exodus,” by rescuing her from exile’s “slavery.”  Of course, Christians can hardly hear Isaiah’s song of salvation without thinking of Jesus Christ as being our salvation.

    Those who preach and teach Isaiah 12 may want to explore an interesting grammatical quirk in verses 1 and 2.  We, after all, usually think of God as graciously giving God’s sons and daughters things like salvation, strength and reasons to sing.  Yet here the prophet speaks not just once but twice of God as not granting salvation and strength, but of God as salvation and salvation themselves.  Is there a difference, or is the prophet simply offering another way of saying God gives salvation?

    In verse 3 Isaiah sings, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  It’s an evocative picture of God’s redemption being like a gift of cold water for thirsty people.  God’s salvation is refreshment for spiritually parched people.  A couple of things about that phrase stand out.  Isaiah compares salvation to a well which offers what people can’t live without: water.  That suggests that salvation is as necessary for human well-being as water itself.  What’s more, the “wells of salvation” suggest not a thin trickle of salvation, but a deep abundance of it.  And, of course, Christians can hardly hear this phrase without thinking of Jesus Christ, the “Living Water” (John 3:10, 13-14).

    Verse 4’s phrase “in that day” links with verse 1, as well as Isaiah 10:27’s announcement of God’s judgment on Assyria “on that day” and 10:20 and 11:10-11’s announcement of Israel’s restoration “in that day.”  Here Isaiah invites Israel to lift her eyes from her present misery to a coming day when God will transform and restore her.  It’s a vision that grants hope to suffering Israel in the midst of her current loss and deprivation.

    Modern preachers and teachers rightly shy away from the perversion of Christianity that’s all future “pie in the sky, by and by.”  After all, God’s gift of eternal life begins here and now.  God’s salvation already affects the whole person.  Yet the fact remains that while God is already making all things new, “in that day” God will complete the creation’s transformation and restoration.  Israel’s current circumstances, either in exile or on its cusp, don’t offer much reason for being hopeful.  Knowing that God, not evil or misery, will get the last word gives strength to those who currently feel beaten, worn and discouraged.

    And when God restores Israel by judging Assyria, the prophet announces in verses 4-6, Israel will be freed to sing psalms of praise.  This mini-“psalm” echoes Psalm 105:1-2 with its call to “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.”  Here too, after all, Isaiah promises that redeemed Israel will be free to give thanks to God.

    Yet God’s salvation of Israel also has missional implications.  This is a message not just for God’s Israelite sons and daughters, but also for “the nations.”  What’s the content of that message?  God has done “glorious things” (5).  “Great is the Holy One of Israel” (6).

    In that day of salvation, Isaiah prophecies, Israel will be able to sing to the Lord because God has restored to her that for which God created all people: life lived with God in our midst.  The human story is that of creation for intimacy with God against which our first parents rebelled, sending all people naturally in a dead sprint away from God.  The good news of our text and of the Scriptures is that the Holy One of Israel is “among” us.  This, of course, points us ahead to Jesus, Immanuel, “God with us” as well as to God’s gift of the Holy Spirit by whom God lives within God’s adopted sons and daughters.

    The Lectionary appoints Zephaniah 3:14-20 for this day.  Our text from Isaiah forms an appropriate response to Zephaniah’s promise to bring exiled Israel “home” (3:20).  What’s more, Zephaniah 3:15 assertion that “The King of Israel … is with you” also echoes Isaiah’s insistence that God is “among” Israel.

    This also provides a link to the New Testament lesson appointed for the day.  In Philippians 4:5, after all, Paul invites the Philippians to rejoice because “the Lord is near.”  Our text from Isaiah also resonates with John the Baptizer’s announcement of the coming of the One who will follow him who baptizes “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16).

    Illustration Idea

    Few citizens of the 20th century modeled the kind of trust Isaiah professes in our text more than Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was a German pastor and theologian whom the Nazis imprisoned for this part in the 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

    To greet the beginning of the new year 1945 Bonhoeffer wrote a poem from his prison cell .  Among its most poignant verses is this (very roughly translated): “By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,/ we fearlessly wait, come whatever may,/ God is with us in the evening and in the morning,/ and most definitely on every new day.”

    Bonhoeffer could peacefully await whatever happened to him because he knew that God was with him night and day.  On April 9, 1945, just months after he wrote this poem, the Nazis hanged him.  Yet as Eric Metaxas notes in his remarkable biography of Bonhoeffer, the attending physician said that he’d never seen anyone approach his death with such grace and peace.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Philippians 4:4-7

    Author: Stan Mast