Archive for the ‘Isaiah 40’ Category

Eschatological Ethics IV: Acting Justly While We Wait   2 comments

Above:  Desert Road

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday after Christmas, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, whose glory angels sang when Christ was born:

grant that we, having heard the good news of his coming,

may live to honor thee and to praise his holy name;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 118

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Isaiah 62:10-12

Titus 2:11-14

Luke 2:36-40

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The imagery of the road in Isaiah 62:10-12 reminds me of similar language from Isaiah 40:3-5, quoted in Luke 3:4-6.  The motif of a road, upon which people went into exile, becoming the thoroughfare for the return of their descendants, is no accident.  Neither is applying it to messianic expectation.  Notably in Isaiah 62, returning exiles travel that road home in the company of the Presence of God.

Yet the exiles were already home.  Their homeland, part of a Persian satrapy, did not meet their high expectations, as prophets had described the post-exilic circumstances.  Third Isaiah comforted disappointed exiles, assuring them that God was faithful, and that the prophecies had simply not come true yet.

We are still waiting.  We are still waiting for the fully realized rule of God on Earth.  We are still waiting long after the end of the Babylonian Exile and the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Waiting is frequently difficult to do patiently.  Sometimes justice demands impatience of us; patience is not always a virtue.  On other occasions, however, it is.  Part of wisdom is knowing when to wait.  Sometimes we must act while we wait.

While we wait for God to fulfill the promise of the Apocalypse of John, we have responsibilities to God, each other, and ourselves.  We must act morally, in private and in public.  We must obey the Golden Rule–an oddly offensive commandment, from more than one perspective.  We must acknowledge in words and deeds our total reliance on God, our human interdependence, and the absence of any moral right to exploit anyone.  We must build up each other.  Only God can save the world, but we can–and must–leave it better than we found it.

May we succeed, by grace.  Our efforts are necessary, of course, but they are also inadequate.  May we be faithful junior partners of God in the world, which is our neighborhood.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 23, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF JERUSALEM, BROTHER OF JESUS

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Jesus and Empires   Leave a comment

Above:  Annunciation to the Shepherds, by Anonymous

Image in the Public Domain

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For Christmas Day, First Service, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Glory be to thee, O God in the highest, who by the birth of thy beloved Son

has made him to be for us both Word and Sacrament:

grant that we may hear thy Word, receive thy grace,

and be made one with him born for our salvation;

even Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 118

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Isaiah 40:25-31

Galatians 4:1-7

Luke 2:1-14

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Luke 2 presents the honest, objective reviewer of history and the Gospel of Luke with a text full of factual holes yet profound truth and timeless meaning.  We cannot possibly line up all the historical details–the census and all those officeholders–at the same period in the past.

There never was a census of the whole Empire under Augustus (but a number of local censuses, and the census of Judea (not of Galilee) under Quirinius, the governor of Syria, took place in AD 6, probably at least ten years too late for the birth of Jesus.

–Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 1997), 233

The text of Luke 2:1-14, although factually inaccurate, is theologically true.

As Brown pointed out, the author of the Gospel of Luke, by linking the birth of Jesus to an imperial decree, introduced a divine plan that reached its culmination in Acts 28, when St. Paul the Apostle proclaimed the Gospel in Rome.  The song of the angels was for Jesus, not Augustus.  It constituted an imperial proclamation of a sort, too.

Code:  Jesus is more important than Augustus and his successors even were.

In Isaiah 40:27 exiles lament:

“My way is hid from the LORD,

my cause is ignored by God.”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

It is an understandable way of thinking.  It is also one of the following verses refute.

One meaning of the Incarnation is that God does not ignore we human beings.  In contrast, God loves us enough to become one of us, alive among us, and save us.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 23, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF JERUSALEM, BROTHER OF JESUS

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The Law of Mercy   1 comment

Above:  Judah and Tamar, by the School of Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 38:1-26 or Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm 18:31-36, 43-50

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Matthew 12:1-21

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Temple prostitution, in the background in Genesis 38, might be background for 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 also.  If it is, the reading becomes deeper than it is otherwise.  If to engage in sexual relations with a pagan prostitute is to unite with the deity the prostitute serves, idolatry becomes an issue.  Christians are supposed to function as part of the body of Christ, therefore visiting a pagan temple prostitute is worse than visiting a prostitute in general.

Speaking of Genesis 38, it is another of those different stories we find frequently in the Hebrew Bible.  It remains a proverbial hot potato.  When must a father-in-law sire his grandsons?  When the laws governing levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) dictate.  The text does not condemn Tamar for her deceit either, for the narrative makes plain that it was the option left open to her.

In June 1996 my father became the pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church in northern Appling County, Georgia, U.S.A.  One of the adult Sunday School classes was reading the Book of Genesis a chapter at a time.  One week the teacher announced that the class would not discuss Chapter 38 (although they had apparently discussed Chapter 37 the previous week), but would talk about Chapter 39 instead.  I wonder if the teacher also skipped the rape of Dinah and the subsequent bloodbath in Chapter 34.  Probably, yes.

When passages of scripture make us that uncomfortable, we should study them.  We should study all of the Bible, of course, but double down on the parts that cause us to squirm.

God is strong, mighty, loving, and trustworthy, we read.  Sometimes mercy on some takes the form of judgment on others.  After all, judgment on oppressors does help the oppressed, does it not?

Much occurs theologically in Matthew 12:1-21, but the major point is that mercy overrides Sabbath laws.  We read that some labor was mandatory on the Sabbath, especially for priests.  So yes, we read Jesus announce, the hungry may pluck grain and the man with the withered hand may receive healing, not just rudimentary first aid.

In the Gospel of Matthew one of the points drilled into the text was that Jesus did not seek to destroy the Law of Moses.  No, he presented his interpretation as correct and in opposition to the interpretations of his critics.  Jesus stood within the context of Judaism, not against it.  For example, the Mishnah, published in 200 C.E. (about 170 years after the crucifixion of Jesus), listed 39 types of labor prohibited on the Sabbath.  Plucking food was not one of them.  Christ’s opponents in Chapter 12:1-21 were, to use an anachronistic expression, more Catholic than the Pope.

The Sabbath, in the Law of Moses, was about liberation.  Slaves in Egypt received no days off, so a day off was a mark of freedom.  Besides, science and experience have taught us the necessity of down time.  Much of my Christian tradition has reacted against leisure (especially “worldly amusements,” a bane of Pietism and Puritanism) and insisted that idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.  Nevertheless, science and experience have affirmed the necessity of a certain amount of idleness.

Judaism, at its best, is not legalistic; neither is Christianity.  Yet legalistic Jews and Christians exist.  A healthy attitude is to seek to respond to God faithfully, without becoming lost in the thicket of laws, without failing to see the forest for the trees, without mistaking culturally specific examples for timeless principles, without shooting cannon balls at gnats, and without forgetting mercy.

And while one is doing that, one should read the scriptural passages that make one squirm in one’s seat.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE JORDAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RAVENNA AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICENTA CHÁVEZ OROZCO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SERVANTS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/devotion-for-proper-16-year-a-humes/

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God Cares, Part V   Leave a comment

Above:  Salonica, Greece, 1913

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-66142

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FOR THE FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF KINGDOMTIDE, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O Lord, you have promised that whatsoever we do to

the least of your brethren you will receive as done to you:

Give us grace to be ever willing and ready, as you enable us,

to minister to the necessities of our fellow human beings;

in your name we pray.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 155

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Isaiah 40:1-5

Psalm 53

2 Thessalonians 1:3-5, 11-12; 2:1-2, 13-15

Luke 17:20-25

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The standard English-language translations of Psalms 14 and 53 (nearly identical poems) do not do justice to the texts.  For example, the fools are actually wicked people.  Also, the wicked do not deny the existence of God.  No, they claim that God does not care.  That attitude explains why they feel free to continue in their wickedness.

That God cares is a point the readings affirm.  God cares enough to have ended the Babylonian Exile.  God cares enough to have brought about the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth, who identified with us and our suffering.

God cares about us deeply.  We can never reciprocate fully, but God does not expect us to do the impossible, fortunately.  We can, however, respond faithfully to God.  On concrete measure of this caring is the manner in which we treat our fellow human beings.  Each of us falls short by that standard, but we can improve, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILARY OF POITIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS, “ATHANASIUS OF THE WEST,” AND HYMN WRITER; MENTOR OF SAINT MARTIN OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TOURS

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN KEIMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENTIGERN (MUNGO), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GLASGOW

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

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Varieties of Exile   Leave a comment

Above:  Road to Natural Bridge in Death Valley National Park, California, 2012

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-23917

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FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Bestow your light on us, O Lord, that, being rid of the darkness of our hearts,

we may attain to the true light;  through Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 69

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Isaiah 62:10-12

Psalm 32

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Luke 3:2b-6

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Isaiah 40:3-5 (quoted in Luke 2:4b-6) and Isaiah 6:10-12 share the thread of return from exile.  In order to grasp Isaiah 62:10-12 one should back up to the beginning of the chapter.  The Babylonian Exile is over yet the reality of Jerusalem after liberation by the Persian Empire does not live up to expectations.  God will indeed restore the fortunes of Jerusalem, we read; more exiles, accompanied by the Presence of God, will return to their ancestral homeland via a highway in the desert.  This is the same highway in Isaiah 40:3-5.

The Babylonian Exile, according to the Hebrew Bible, occurred mostly because of persistent societal sinfulness, such as that manifested in idolatry and institutionalized social injustice.  Divine judgment was simply the consequence of human actions.  Then forgiveness followed, hence the reading of Psalm 32 in the context of Isaiah 62:10-12.  Mercy followed judgment.

Quoting Isaiah 40:3-5 in Luke 3 was thematically appropriate, for life in Roman-occupied Judea constituted exile of a sort.  Expectations of deliverance from the occupiers was commonplace yet not universal among Jews in the homeland.  Jesus, of course, was not the conquering hero; he was no Judas Maccabeus.  No, Jesus was a savior of a different sort.  The high expectations left over from Isaiah 62 remained unfulfilled.

There is, of course, the major of the continuing passage of time.  The fact that these hopes remain unfulfilled does not mean that they will remain so indefinitely.  God’s schedule is not ours.  God, who is the ultimate judge, is faithful and full of surprises.  May the incongruity between our expectations and divine tactics and schedules not stand in the way of serving God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 28, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMBROSE OF MILAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; MONICA OF HIPPO, MOTHER OF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO; AND AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, BISHOP OF HIPPO REGIUS

THE FEAST OF DENIS WORTMAN, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF LAURA S. COPERHAVER, U.S. LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER AND MISSIONARY LEADER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES THE BLACK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MARTYR

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Divine Consolation   1 comment

Anna at the Presentation of Jesus--Giotto

Above:  Anna at the Presentation of Jesus, by Giotto

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Beautiful God, you gather your people into your realm,

and you promise us food from your tree of life.

Nourish us with your word, that empowered by your Spirit

we may love one another and the world you have made,

through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 34

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 34:20-33

Psalm 93

Luke 2:25-38

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The LORD is King;

he has put on splendid apparel;

the LORD has put on his apparel

and girded himself with strength.

He has made the whole world so sure

that it cannot be moved;

Ever since the world began, your throne has been established;

you are from everlasting.

The waters have lifted up, O LORD,

the waters have lifted up their voice;

the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.

Mightier than the sound of many waters,

mightier than the breakers of the sea,

mightier is the LORD who dwells on high.

Your testimonies are very sure,

and holiness adorns your house, O LORD,

for ever and for evermore.

–Psalm 93, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Humility before God, whose testimonies are sure, is a virtue.  In the main two readings for this day we encounter five people who were humble before God:

  • King Josiah of Judah (reigned 640-609 B.C.E.), who instigated religious reforms consistent with the Book of Deuteronomy,
  • Saints Mary and Joseph of Nazareth, who raised Jesus in an observant Jewish home, and
  • Saints Simeon and Anna the Prophetess, who testified regarding the infant Jesus.

As Father Raymond E. Brown pointed out in The Birth of the Messiah (Updated Edition, 1993), the law and the prophets framed birth and infancy of Jesus.  The Lukan language alluded to Isaiah 40:1 and 66:12-13, with their references to the consolation (paraklesis in Greek and parakalein in Hebrew, sounding like paraclete) of Israel.  Sts. Joseph and Mary obeyed legal customs.  Two prophets attested to our Lord and Savior’s bona fides, but only one prophet affirmed St. John the Baptist in Luke 1:67-79.  St. Anna the Prophetess looked for the redemption of Jerusalem, echoing Isaiah 52:9 (The Revised English Bible, 1989):

Break forth together into shouts of joy,

you ruins of Jerusalem;

for the LORD has comforted his people,

he has redeemed Jerusalem.

The author of the Gospel of Luke understood the life of Jesus as fitting neatly into a much longer narrative of consolation and redemption.  His subtle word choices helped to establish connections with subsequent texts, such as John 14:15f, in which Jesus promised that God the Father would send another Paraclete–Comforter, Counselor, and Advocate–the Holy Spirit, simply put.

Consolation is among the most frequent reasons many people seek God.  This makes sense to me.  The quest for comfort recurs throughout the Bible, especially in the Book of Psalms, because of the ubiquity of distress.  Turning to God might not end one’s distress, but it does provide one with a means of coping with it.  If we love God, we will obey divine commandments.  This might lead to suffering (John 15:18-27), but at least the Holy Spirit will be present with us during our ordeals.  There is much consolation in that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 5, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF CHARLES JUDSON CHILD, JR., EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

THE FEAST OF LESLIE WEATHERHEAD, BRITISH METHODIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF MARGARET MACKAY, SCOTTISH HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/devotion-for-wednesday-after-the-sixth-sunday-of-easter-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Faithfulness and Generosity of God, Part II   1 comment

Road Through Desert

Above:  A Road Through a Desert

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son.

By his coming give to all the world knowledge of your salvation;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 19

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 126

Romans 8:22-25

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When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,

then we were like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy.

They they said among the nations,

“The LORD has done great things for them.”

The LORD has done great thins for us,

and we are glad indeed.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

like the watercourses of the Negev.

Those who sowed with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go our reaping, carrying the seed,

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

–Psalm 126, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Hope–even that of the well-placed variety–can be difficult to maintain.  Periods of exile might be long, fear and uncertainty might be daunting, physical and/or emotional suffering might be terrible, and daring to aspire to a better future might seem foolish.  Yet God is faithful and generous, and many unlikely and seemingly unlikely events occur.  Samuel L. Clemens, who wrote as Mark Twain, commented, fiction, unlike non-fiction, is, according to many people, supposed to make sense.  Yet I have noticed that many expect non-fiction to make sense, according to their expectations, and reject reality when it contradicts confirmation bias.

This is a devotion for early in Advent, the time of preparation for the twelve days of Christmas.  December should be a time of contemplation, assuming that one observes a spiritual holiday or holidays during the month.  (It is a month full of holidays.)  I, as a Christian, observe the seasons of Advent and Christmas while wishing others happy holidays in their traditions, for having a firm opinion need not lead to hostility and/or intolerance toward those who are different.  I observe Advent so enthusiastically that I wish people a holy Advent until very close to December 25, finally yielding to “Merry Christmas” somewhere around December 23.  Then I wish people “Merry Christmas” until January 5.  I, without becoming lost in theologically minor details, ponder the central mystery of Christianity, which is that God entered into the human story as one of us.  That Jesus was a human being is the first important statement about him.  The incarnation is foundational, for, if that assertion is not true, other essential doctrines, such as those related to Good Friday and Easter, fall apart.  Other ancient religions proposed their own saviors of the world, but those figures never existed as historical figures.  How can a figment of human imaginations save the world?

Was it ever too much to hope that God would become incarnate?  No, but it was wonderful.  And, since Jesus rose from the dead and conquered death and sin, there is even more hope for us than we would have otherwise.  Dare we to live in that hope?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 11, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY THAUMATURGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF NEOCAESAREA; AND SAINT ALEXANDER OF COMANA “THE CHARCOAL BURNER,” ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR AND BISHOP OF COMANA, PONTUS

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS MONTAGUE TOPLADY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLARE OF ASSISI, FOUNDER OF THE POOR CLARES

THE FEAST OF MATTHIAS LOY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR; AND CONRAD HERMANN LOUIS SCHUETTE, GERMAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/devotion-for-monday-after-the-second-sunday-of-advent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted August 12, 2015 by neatnik2009 in Isaiah 40, Psalm 126, Romans 8

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