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Epiphany Year C

RCL Year C

Second Sunday after Epiphany:

January 16, 2022

Highlighted Text: Isaiah 62:1-5 

Summary of the text

First, let’s sort out the text on the basis of the speakers. The books of the major prophets, much like the Psalms, are anthologies of the respective prophet’s oracles. And also much like the Psalms, in any one prophetic passage we may identify more than one voice: the prophet, God, Israel, the nations, etc. Isaiah 62:1-5 is an example. Earlier commentators tended to recognize God’s voice in this prophetic text, and later commentaries have generally identified the prophet as speaker. This oracle, I propose, is both. The “I” of verse 1 is the prophet Isaiah, and the “you/your” of verses 2-5 is Zion/Jerusalem personified. Yet when we read verse 6, which is an extension of the oracle, the subject of the verb in the first part of the verse is most likely the Lord, who appoints prophets: “watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night.” To enlarge this explanation, we should note that, unmistakably, we hear the Lord’s voice again in verses 8-9 where the Lord establishes the certainty of his word by swearing an oath.

Second, let’s look at the larger context to discover what is going on here and how this oracle fits with earlier oracles. One of Isaiah’s strongest themes was salvation, which has both a material and spiritual dimension. Zion or Jerusalem had been the object of enemy aggression many times in history, and the “watchmen” on Zion’s walls were the security system of the city and the nation. They watched day and night. Yet, Isaiah’s view of salvation extended beyond the earthly realities and included a Savior and a saving age. He describes the Savior under the four Servant Songs and reinforces those four songs with four reports of the Anointed One, each recalling the earlier Servant Songs. Alec Motyer speaks of these parallel reports as having a one-on-one matching relationship with the Servant Songs, and also having a tailpiece descriptor:

  • the first regards the Servant/Anointed One’s status and task (42:1-4/59:21, tailpiece 60:1-22);
  • the second regards the Servant/Anointed One’s ministry and objective (49:1-6/61:1-3, tailpiece 61:5-9);
  • the third regards the Servant/Anointed One’s commitment (50:4-9/61:10-62:7, tailpiece 62:8-12);
  • the fourth regards the Servant/Anointed One’s completion of his work (52:13-53:12/63:1-6, major tailpiece 63:7-66:24).[1] The major tailpiece of this series of reports and testimonies, quite appropriately, is a mixture of prayer and promise.

Third, let’s consider the meaning of this brief text. Actually we need to keep in mind the larger context of 62:1-5, a point that we need to remember when we use any lectionary text—they tend to be abbreviated. The prophet’s refusal to keep silent is quite in keeping with the persistent line of prophetic voices who, as it were, stood on the walls of Jerusalem as watchmen. The nations are the observers who see that Zion or God’s people undergo a transformation, called by a new name, no longer the names “Deserted” and “Desolate,” but “My Delight” and “Married.” Zion, always hated and often deserted to its enemies, has become the beloved bride of God and the new relationship is characterized by love (“My Delight”) and security (“Married”). The broader meaning of this text is the future kingdom of God.

John also uses the metaphor of a wedding to describe the consummation of God’s redeeming grace: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Rev. 19:9) Life in the ancient world was cluttered with much suffering and many woes, and Isaiah and John choose the image of a wedding to describe the climactic state of the redeemed church, the joy and security of God’s people. While our generation is material-laden and egocentric, Isaiah reminds us of a truth that we need to hear: by grace we have taken on a new name and the Lord delights in us and rejoices over us (62:4, 5) and secures our being. While it is only natural that we delight in the Lord and rejoice in him, that he should delight in us and rejoice over us is a truth that spells out God’s love. What a wonder of grace!

Hassell Bullock

C. Hassell Bullock is the Franklin S. Dyrness Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College (IL) where he taught for 36 years. He is a graduate of Samford University (Birmingham, AL), Columbia Theological Seminary (Decatur, GA), and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Instiutute of Religion (Cincinnati, O).

Among his published works are An Introduction to
the OT Poetic Books (Moody), Encountering the Book of Psalms, and a two-volume commentary on the Psalms, Psalms 1-72, and Psalms 73-150 (Baker Academic).

In addition to forty years of teaching in the college classroom, he has served Presbyterian congregations as pastor in Alabama and Illinois. He is married to his college sweetheart, Rhonda, and they have a son and a daughter and five grandchildren.

Sermon Resources

Key Quote

Eugene Peterson

My identity does not begin when I begin to understand myself. There is something previous to what I think about myself, and it is what God thinks of me.

Taken from Run with the Horses by Eugene H. Peterson. ©2009, 2019 by Eugene H. Peterson.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

 [1] J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1999), 376-77, 383-84.

Key Illustration

A few years ago the church where I was serving invited a wonderful brothers duet to sing for the morning service, and they sang so beautifully, “O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling” (Mary Ann Thomson, 1868). Some in the congregation, having been involved in missionary endeavors that leaned in a particular political direction, thought that the guest duo was making a political statement. I recognize, of course, that we should be wise, discerning, and sensitive to our worshipers, and most of all to our God, but the truth was and is that many centuries ago the Christian Church took up the metaphor of “Zion” as a self-description because in the Old Testament that is the place where the Lord chose to attach his name and dwell, in a physical way of speaking. But spiritually speaking, the name became a respectable name for Christ’s Church.

I would, of course, recommend that we exercise wisdom in our choices of language in worship, while at the same time we not forget the theologically laden meanings of some of the terms the Church has cherished. Isaiah reminded his audience, the watchmen on the walls and the people they secured by their watchful eyes, that the Lord could not keep silent about Zion/Jerusalem, and that is still true for the Church of Jesus Christ, and those who speak his Word are the watchmen. May God give us wisdom in all we say and do so that we may represent Christ faithfully.

Additional Sermon Resources

Liturgical Elements

Call to Worship

    L. In Jesus Christ God has removed our sins from us and given us a new name.

    P. Now we are called Forgiven.

    L. In Jesus Christ God has assured us that he could never forget us.

    P. Now we rejoice that we are called Remembered.

    L. In Jesus Christ God has changed our perspective that we are enemies of God and grace.

    P. Now we are called Friends.

    L. In Jesus Christ God has written us new birth certificates.

    P. And now our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    L. Let us worship our God who delights in us and rejoices over us and has given us a new name in Jesus Christ our Lord. Now we are called Christians. 

    Prayer of Confession

    O God, too often we turn to You when we have no other place to go, but your arms are always open wide.  Forgive us for using you as our last resort when you ought to be our first.  We confess that you have too often filled our minds with extraneous thoughts and plans, so let the mind of Christ fill us with new thoughts of you and of the plans you have for our lives. Forgive us for being so self-centered that our service to you is tainted by self-serving, and renew us in grace and mercy.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

    Assurance of Pardon

    We affirm the good news that this statement is completely true and should be universally accepted: Christ Jesus entered the world to save sinners. He personally bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might be dead to sin and alive to God.  In Christ we are forgiven.  Amen. 

    Benediction

    Ephesians 3:20-21

    Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

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