“The Promise of Joy”
Texts: Isaiah 12
October 11, 2020
By: David D. McDonald
NRSV ISAIAH 12:1 -6
12 You will say in that day:
I will give thanks to you, O LORD,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
and you comforted me.
2 Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to the LORD,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.
5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
NRSV PHILIPPIANS 4:2-7
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Webster defines joy as, "...a very glad feeling; happiness; a great pleasure; delight." It is characteristic of these days and our culture for many to focus upon personal joy, personal pleasure, and individual delights. In Isaiah 12; however, note how the focus moves grammatically from 1st person to 2nd person. Isaiah addresses his words to those under the oppression of the Assyrians and these survivors will give thanks and praise to God. To understand this passage it is important to realize that the Assyrians have ravaged Israel. The ten Northern tribes have been decimated by war and taken captive. The armies of General Sennacherib have come to the very gates of Jerusalem. The Assyrians boast that they have Israel's, King Hezekiah, walled up in Jerusalem "like a bird in a cage." Isaiah has been a prophet proclaiming Israel's judgment and calling upon the nation to repentance and turn from her idolatry with the gods of the land. To read the first eleven chapters of Isaiah is to glimpse a nation under judgment.
We also learn that to Isaiah and his wife are born three sons. One they name Maher-shalal-hash-baz. If any of your children complain about how long their names are or how yucky, ask them if they would like to be a son of Isaiah. The name means literally, Spoil-Speeds-Prey-Hastens. Every day in the town square, every day in the field, every Sabbath, Isaiah calls out the name of his son and speaks of God’s judgment at the same time, Spoil-Speeds-Prey-Hastens. The story is not finished there, however. God's judgment is never the last word. Another son is named Shear-jashub; literally, Remnant Shall Return . Every day in all those usual family activities - on the ball field, at meal times, on holidays they hear the family cry out Shear-jashub, Remnant Shall Return. As comforting as it may be to know that some will survive the holocaust descending upon them, what of those who perish? Is it good news that Assyria will return to its homeland licking its wounds, mortally wounded, eventually to succumb to the Babylonians; if only a remnant is there to share in its joy? Can they rejoice at such a terrible price? The story is not finished; however. There is another son and he is named, Immanuel, God With Us. Immanuel goes with Mom and Dad to hear the daily news of the battles at the city gates. Immanuel goes with Mom and Dad to hear the King call out the troops. Immanuel goes with them to the funerals of those slain in battle. Immanuel will grow up with Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz. These sons of the great prophet will live out the story of Israel. The family of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob has grown as numerous as grains of sand and their story is continued to the glory of God. Moreover, the father's name, the Daddy of them all, Isaiah, means simply, The Lord is Salvation. To look upon this prophet and his sons is to see God's message told in proper names.
As I think about the economy; not only of our nation, but nations around the globe, I see a world that is a shadow of itself even a year ago. Likewise, I reflect on all the lives lost all around the globe and especially in our nation and I see and hear the great sadness and loss that the death of so many millions of people brings and I feel a great sadness in what has happened so recently. In my own hospitalization for eight days; I felt the loss of strength and vigor that such illness brings. How do we move forward? Where is joy?
Interestingly, chapter 12 of Isaiah proclaims the joy, the comfort, and the happiness, of a series of events that have yet to occur. Chapter 12 is about the future, about hope, and God’s redeeming grace. The prophet Isaiah is wrestling with a theology of his people who sincerely believed, that unless one was prospering, unless one was living in leisure, unless the rains and sun were coming in perfect rhythm so as to make the fields ripe for the harvest, unless the enemy was no where to be found, unless there was plenty to sacrifice on the altar; God was not there. This is a very familiar theology. It is the belief that somehow; unless my refrigerator is stocked and my pantry is full; God does not hear my prayers. It is the belief that somehow I will only find religious joy when my house is big, my silos full, and my luxury automobile plated in gold. It is the theology that believes that God makes his presence known only when my own children do not get the sniffles, when the sun is shining and the grass dry so the floors of the house stay clean. It is the theology that believes the only good weather is pleasant weather; when the children can play outside, be happy, and stay out of my hair while I tend to business and personal needs, not necessarily in that order. It is the theology that somehow equates personal financial security with trust in God.
Isaiah will have none of that. For Isaiah, God is with the people even when they were prey running from the Assyrian armies, often called in ancient literature “lions”. God is with them even if the beast of Babylon turns out to be worse than the Assyrian lions. God is with us when the diapers need changing, when the boys are fighting, when there is no sleep at night, only sickness. God is with us when the walls are caving in, the roof is leaking, and the drought has dried up the water supply. God is with us when terror is on the streets, when the bullies come walking, and when innocent blood is shed. God is with us by day and by night; in fair weather and in foul, in our youth and in our old age. For Isaiah there is nowhere a human being can go that God is not there. That is the Promise that brings joy.
Isaiah believes that although we may go to the ends of the earth, God will be there. Isaiah believes that though the whole host of the Assyrian army be assembled against the gates, though no warriors be alive to defend the nation, though the darkness of Israel's fate be impenetrable by human eyes; even in those deepest recesses of human experience God is there: acting, loving, seeking, cherishing, and comforting. As Isaiah's poetry so beautifully speaks:
"You will say in that day:
I will give thanks to you,
For though you were angry
your anger turned away,
and you comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not
for the Lord God is my strength
and my might;
he has become my salvation."
In the scriptures joy is most often found in God's salvation. Isaiah reminds the people of that great truth. His very name is a reminder. God's redemption of a remnant is a reminder that God is their salvation and therefore they can rejoice. God has over turned the cart of evil. God has separated his people from their sins. They have turned. They have repented. He has redeemed. All of these things are cause for joy. All of these things are reasons for Thanksgiving.
Yet, there is a hint here in Isaiah, which will become a full-blown theology in the New Testament, that joy may be found in suffering and in weakness, "in terms of a power of God,’ made perfect in weakness.'"(Matt.5:12; II Cor. 12:9). In this morning’s reading from Philippians, Paul finds joy even in the midst of his imprisonment. Although he is despised by both Jewish and Roman authorities, and Christians are being hunted down and treated like wild animals, Paul finds joy in the future whether that is freedom or execution.
The power of God with us is like that of a child that is about to be born. The child's power is not in his strength or his might or in any ability to command the forces of men or nature. Rather, the power of a child is in the ability to love. The New Testament begins as a story of a child born in time for all time. It is the story of a God who loves the world so much that he is willing to be poured out as a child, helpless, dependent, and vulnerable. God's joy becomes clear in the tears, the pain, the sacrifice, and the suffering of the cross.
Thankfully our joy is not premised upon being healthy, or whole, or even theologically correct. Our joy is premised on the simple belief that in Jesus Christ we are saved from our sins. We do not have to understand how that all works out. We do not have to understand how Christ's death on the cross is the propitiation for our sins. God knows and understands and that is the whole point. Salvation is offered as a free gift. Its cost has already been paid. This is our life to use for the glory of God. I can't think of anything that should make us happier. That is joy!
“Okay. Here’s the point. The reason these women and children and men are filled with expectation and hope and joy is that they understand, maybe some of them for the first time, that the good news is not about them; it is about God. And the world to come isn’t about them and their comfort and their agenda; it is about God’s laughter and God’s dancing days. The good news is not something to be fit into an already overfilled schedule; it is something that supersedes the schedule completely. It’s not about some “then”; it is about right now.” M.A.M. Dec. 13, 2009
Joy comes with the knowledge that forgiveness is the free gift of Jesus Christ who once hung on a cross with criminals, ate with sinners, walked daily with fishermen, and continues to change not only the course of history, but our lives as well. Thanks be to Christ who has seen what we have been, stands with us in the present, and beckons us with a voice filled with hope and joy into the future where the kingdom is already prepared. That's something to celebrate and that's why Christ's followers worship every Sunday in His name and why joy comes to those who follow. Our blessing comes from Christ who is with us at all times:
The rainy days and the sunny days
The days of leisure and the days of hard work
The days of vigorous health and the days of illness
The days of wealth and the days of poverty
Christ came in time for all times. In that light an anonymous Confederate Soldier probably penned these words as a member of a defeated army on a lonely battlefield.
Most Richly Blessed
I asked God for strength, that I might Achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for -
But everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my
Unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men,
Most richly blessed."
Anonymous Confederate Soldier quoted on p. 356, Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul.
Those words well express what happens when a deep faith becomes a river of joy. It is said that “Joy is like jam; you can’t spread it without getting some of it on yourself.” (Quote from James Atwood’s book, The Leaven of Laughter for Advent and Christmas p. 47, modified.) . I pray you will find joy as the Bible proclaims it.