7 January 2013Isaiah 60:1-7
"For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." (vv. 2-3)
The second part of Isaiah (chapters 40-66) was probably written by a prophet or group of prophets in the second part of the 6th century BC, in Babylon where the kingdom of Judah was exiled. In exile the people of Judah felt that they had been abandoned by God. Some had forgotten their origins and become numb, becoming assimilated into Babylonian culture. Jeremiah's prophecy (Jeremiah 50) had been a wake-up call to the people of Judah, to remind them that they did not truly belong in Babylon.
Having been reminded that they were in exile, the people of Judah became exhausted by trying to maintain their culture and religion in the face of Babylonian oppression, and began to despair. There seemed no hope of any end to exile and no prospect of any new beginnings.
It is into this despair that second Isaiah speaks. The poetry offers a vision of an alternative reality through a series of metaphors. Isaiah rouses the people to hope and gives the community a new energy, by reminding them of God's promises of a return to their homeland and a new and glorious beginning.
This passage exuberantly proclaims that the people of Judah will be gathered together back in the homeland, which will be blessed with God's radiance. Not only that, but all other nations will be drawn to God's light and Judah will become wealthy and rule over all the other nations of the world. We may be somewhat disturbed by the imperial nature of this vision of God's glory and the restoration of God's people. But this is poetry, written for a people dulled by oppression, exclusion and deprivation; poetry to inspire them to raise their heads and dare to imagine that God's power is greater than the earthly forces oppressing them and that God's power will rescue them in the end.
We read this passage at Epiphany because the references to eastern tribes and gifts of frankincense and myrrh have been regarded by some scholars as a prediction of the visit of the Magi. Certainly, in the light of the New Testament, the radiant glory of God that draws all people to itself is embodied in Jesus Christ.
- As Christians, in what ways do we not truly belong to the dominant culture in which we live?
- Have you found poetry that offers you an alternative vision of reality? What kind of poetry offers you this vision?
- What energises you to live as if you are a citizen of God's reality rather than of the dominant culture?