Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Unto Us A Child Is Born (Isaiah 9)

After willingly accepting the call to carry God’s message of salvation to the people of God, Isaiah is deeply burdened with the sad news of the destruction of Israel and Judah, and the scattering of the survivors into exile into Syria and Assyria, the nations of the North.

The northernmost region of Israel is Galilee, a rural area far from the cultural centre and political capitals of the nations. It is humble Galilee that will be the first to fall to the invading armies, her people slaughtered or taken into slavery, her land given to the families of the foreign settlers.

Soon after, all of Israel would fall. Judah would follow. The temple would be destroyed. The line of kings after David, the kingdom God promised would never end, would be taken, and with it would Israel’s hope for their coming Messiah-king, Son of David, die with it.

As always in the midst of the promise of judgment, God gives Isaiah a message of great hope, salvation for Israel and the whole world, but especially for the precious little scarred and broken region of Galilee.

Isaiah 9:1-3 (ESVUK)
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shined.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

God has good news for Galilee. She is not forgotten. On the contrary, It is in this place of Israel’s oldest and deepest wound, among a people most long lost and forgotten, that God will first shed the light of love and restoration. Galilee, small and forgotten, on the edge of the nation and vulnerable, a child among her people, will be the beginning of the planting of the new garden of God for restoration of all the scattered of God’s people over the earth.

Where there has been deep sadness, there will be joy. Where the people have been most divided and scattered, they will be gathered, and the nation will be multiplied. Those who have lost their fathers will be made heirs of the family of God. They who have been taken as spoil by the enemies of God will enjoy the plunder of the army of God.

Our redemption begins with the resurrection of that in us which has been most baptized in death. In the place of our greatest pain and loss will God appear most glorious in healing, most generous in grace, most comforting in love, and most rich in restoration.

Isaiah 9:4-5 (ESVUK)
For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.

All tools of oppression, yokes of slavery that would keep the oppressed bound, will be broken and destroyed. All authorities, the rods of the abusers and the scepters of the kings, will be gathered as kindling. All systems of control and violence, and all the armies and officers and mercenaries that keep them in their power, will be dismantled. Even the evidence of the pain of Galilee’s pain and darkness will be gathered up and forgotten, burned along with the kindling that was the power of those who abused her.

Galilee will be free. They who have walked through the dark valley of the shadow of death have not been alone. They will see a great light. They will return home.

Years later, Isaiah’s prophecy would come to pass. A few generations after her destruction, the children of Galilee would return to their battle-scarred land. What was once an obscure land on the edge of Israel, populated by people from many nations outside of the Jewish tradition would now be doubly so. Galilee had been settled by people from Syria and Assyria and Persia and from the many other lands that those nations had conquered. But they were home. Back in their own land, they would rebuild their community with whom they now shared it, their nation multiplied to now include families from all over the earth.

Into obscure little corner of the nation, broken and restored, would God plant the light of humanity that would shine in the darkness, and the darkness would never overcome it.

Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESVUK)
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

God’s promise to David will be fulfilled. The king will be established again. But the Son of David will not arrive first in Jerusalem, the capital of the nation, or  in Judah, the namesake of his tribe. A king will be born for Galilee of the nations on the very edge of God’s Promised Land.

How beautiful that God would send a son to be brought up in a multiethnic neighbourhood among a simple people. Young Jesus grew up among neighbours who knew languages from all over the world. In his local synagogue, the gathering place for the community, he likely saw faces of all complexions, and experienced the difficult but rewarding reality of building community among a diverse people.

The gospels and history books tell us that Galileans had a unique accent. Perhaps it was a special blend of the whole world who called itself Galilee. Religious purists would mock the disciples for their accent, assuming they were backward and uneducated because of their humble origins. However, Galilee was more than good enough for the God of the universe. In Galilee, Jesus was able to learn and carry the face and history of not just his own family, but the world’s, the world into which he’d been sent. Jesus was fully human, for all humanity.

The hope of God's salvation is for all people, everywhere. Galilee, the land of the Gentiles, of all the nations, will be blessed. No longer will only one people know and follow God. God will inhabit all nations, and by God will all nations be blessed. Violence will be destroyed and oppression will cease because of the justice and righteousness of the King of kings who fills all in all. Light will shine on all people, and the voices of all will be raised in joy.

To the world God sent Jesus to save, he began his ministry with a simple but bold announcement of hope in the synagogue of the little rural village in which he was brought up.

Luke 4:16-22a (ESVUK)
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marvelled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.

The Galileans, first to be attacked and destroyed by the armies of the North, were the first to hear the glorious announcement of Jesus’ Jubilee. As Isaiah had predicted hundreds of years before, in this man, the Son of David, would God plant the New Kingdom of God in the earth. The scepters and rods and yokes would be removed. The captives would be set free. The blind who had lived in darkness would recover their sight and witness a great light.

This would be only the beginning. The Kingdom had come and the new order would be established. The prophets had spoken of this day, when a rock cut by the hand of God would tumble into and destroy the idol of the violent empires of the earth.

Daniel 2:35 (ESVUK)
Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

The blood soaked robes of our captivity, all evidence of our oppression, will be burned along with the scepters and rods of the kings and abusers. The empire is destroyed. The Kingdom is here.

Jesus would say the same thing of the Kingdom of justice and peace that he came to inaugurate.

Matthew 13:31-34 (ESVUK)
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables;
    I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

Like a single seed that becomes the scrappy little weed of a mustard bush, known for overgrowing graveyards, so would these humble beginnings beget a kingdom that would spread over the land of the crumbling empire. As impossible as it would be to remove the yeast from a rising dough, so also will this kingdom of love and justice and freedom spread through the former slaves and slaveowners of the world, until the empires of violence and hate are but distant memory.

This is the good news of Galilee, land of the nations, land of joy, land of light, land of freedom.

Isaiah 9:7 (ESVUK)
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Recommended: For more on the Kingdom of God parables of mustard seed and yeast, read Overgrow The Government (Luke 13)

Next Tuesday: Isaiah 10 – Condemnation of Injustice as Policy

Click the above image for the entire series from Isaiah

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