It almost seems fitting that the last day of the calendar year would come to us with such a richness of daily lectionary texts that it is hard choose much less move on into what may lay ahead. With that in mind let us begin to begin.
One of the lessons for today is from the prophetic book of Isaiah:
Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,*
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you,
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall be acceptable on my altar,
and I will glorify my glorious house.
Who are these that fly like a cloud,
and like doves to their windows?
For the coastlands shall wait for me,
the ships of Tarshish first,
to bring your children from far away,
their silver and gold with them,
for the name of the Lord your God,
and for the Holy One of Israel,
because he has glorified you.
This text reminds us that liturgically we are in the season after Christmas, the season in which I always eagerly await Epiphany—keep reading your WWSIC advent devotional for that story. As I read this text, the oracle telling of people coming from “far away” on “camels of Midian” with “gold and frankincense,” I can not help but think of the three scholars or kings who followed the star to find the baby called Jesus. As a hospice chaplain who knows that music touches us in deep ways we do not fully understand I find I have been singing the hymn “We Three Kings” quite a lot this week and will continue to do so next week. There is one verse from this hymn that stands out as shocking to me, it goes:
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb
It is as if our tradition really wants us to understand that the good things yet to come only do so with the death of what currently is.
It is of course not the best policy to read the Hebrew Bible through the lens of the New Testament, historically this has lead to many problems. So I had to look into this text to see if it was hinting that the old must go away to make room for the new. As I look at the scholarship on Isaiah 60:4-9, I note that David Peterson in his book The Prophetic Literature: An Introduction comments on the “global religious perspective” of the oracles in Isaiah with reference to these verses and earlier chapters of the book (78). Marvin Sweeney (whom I will always call Professor Sweeney) in his book writes that Isaiah 60:1-9 is an “announcement of restoration directed at Zion concerning the return of YHWH’s glory and the approach of nations who will return Zion’s son’s and daughters and bring gifts and sacrifices to YHWH’s altar” (81). In some ways, the text today is an oracle of hope and peace, the return of God’s Kindom on earth. And, yes that does seem to indicate a change—from what is to what will be.
What does change mean to us? On the micro and the macro levels, certainly this is something we are all considering this week if not today and tomorrow. Here we have an oracle of change, and oracle of hope and restoration from what for the people and context the oracle was given to was complete destruction. Let us think about that for a moment….Few of us in the modern context know total destruction and exile as behind the context of this text. There does seem to be growing recognition in our American society however that the social and economic structures we live with are not working for us as they once did. Might this oracle also be for us? Might it also bring a message of hopeful change to us as we stare into the sunset of 2011? It is possible there could be that hope for us, too, in this text? Look again at the text. It is not grace freely given here, but grace after surrender, grace after intentional move toward the Kindom of God. I wonder what it is that we need not just to surrender, but as Sweeney suggests “sacrifice” and allow to die so the new may come into being? For this is what both the Christian and the secular traditions of New Years Eve suggests. What is it we must we let go of in order to bring our gifts and riches to the Kindom of God to proclaim the glory of God?
“Kindom of God” is not a misspelling of Kingdom of God, but a known and accepted feminist interpretation of that ideal. Read our Feminist Eschatology for more information.