Commentary on Isaiah 62:6-12
“Behold, your salvation comes.” (Isaiah 62.11)
Christmas Day is the prefect context to explore the proclamation of the mystery of the incarnation within the rich language of Isaiah, considered by many in the early church to be the fifth gospel.1
If Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55) with its rich texture of creation and redemption as well as the mysterious beauty of its Servant Songs is the exilic theologian then this pericope echoes from the quill of Deutero-Isaiah’s student proclaiming into the midst of a post-exilic reality. Perhaps at the unresolved nexus of disorientation and promise, of expectation and reality, Trito-Isaiah (for lack of a hipper name!) is proclaiming God’s transforming care to a disoriented people in need of reorientation. One might consider Trito-Isaiah the close-but-not-quite theologian.
The pericope for Christmas Day comes as the conclusion to a larger section (Isaiah 60-62). The opening two verses set this tone:
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you. (Isaiah 60.1-2, Revised Standard Version)
Notice how the first verse uses perfect verb tenses and the second verse shifts to future tense.2 This illustrates the duality within which these returnees are living and breathing and trying to sort out reality. It’s both already and not yet.
Fast forward to our Nativity pericope, the final half of Isaiah 62. It takes a little patience to sort out the vision here, but it is worth the effort.
“Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels;
all day and all night they shall never be silent.
You who remind the Lord take no rest,
and give him no rest
until he establishes Jerusalem
and makes it renowned throughout the earth.” (Isaiah 62.6-7, New Revised Standard Version)
Already aware that the text is working with an already-not-yet sense of God’s activity in time, we are faced with the challenge of discerning just who is speaking here: the prophet or the Lord. Arguments have been made for both. I want to suggest that we lean into this being the Lord speaking. Notice the dynamic: Jerusalem is established and God will establish it. More interesting is that God has been faithful to God’s people and God is called to be faithful. These sentinels are guards or watch-folk, and yet their duty is not to simply observe. They are proclaimers. Heralds. Prophets. Preachers. Stewards of the Word of God called by God to continually remind God of who God is. Chew on that for a while.
An aspect of this proclamation of a reminder to God of who God is comes in verses 8-9, wherein the Lord is reminded of God’s relationship with God’s people. You shan’t be enslaved any longer. And the vision bears some resemblance to a party — perhaps a Eucharistic party. The grain and the wine that the people cultivate, harvest, and vint is for a party in the holy courts of Yhwh (see also verse 9b). Take a drink of that.
The movement throughout the whole pericope from the perpetually preaching sentinels to the end is that the people hear of God’s salvation. This is the text’s inertia. Notice the language:
“‘See, your salvation comes;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.” (Isaiah 62.11b)
And the reason for the party?
The movement of Yhwh toward Yhwh’s people is one of reconciliation. In the midst of the disorientation of return, God promises salvation. In fact, salvation is Yhwh Yhwhself. Within the narrative crossroads of disorientation and return, Yhwh promises Yhwhself to the people together with reward and amends.
Take all that is above and hold it in tension with the Nativity of Our Lord, specifically Christmas Day. The focus is decidedly and appropriately Christological. A robust Christology necessitates reckoning with the reality that the Triune God is Triune prior to the incarnation with the incarnation being the realization in time and space of eternal fullness of God’s deep commitment to God’s creation. Something so unfathomable is made fathomable in Jesus. The cross is foreshadowed in the paradoxical entry of the Eternal Word, in, by, and through whom the cosmos comes to be, the vulnerability of an infant.
With the angelic host singing, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth…” (Luke 2.14), keep in mind the Lord’s promise and call to the sentinels, “… all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest…” (Isaiah 62.6b) Of this Luther comments and helpfully so:
This is a call to recall the Lord, to call Him to memory, to preach about Christ. You know the way Scripture speaks. To recall is not to remember in private but to proclaim in public, to call to mind, to praise, and to give thanks. This continues. As long as the promise is in force, nothing is proclaimed in the church but that Jesus Christ is preached and taught.3
Take heart, preachers, Christ is with you and would have himself be proclaimed as life, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption.
Knowing that salvation has come in Jesus Christ, we proclaim: “See, your salvation comes.”
1. See also John F.A. Sawyer, The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity (Cambridge University Press, 1996.
2. The Masoretic Text has perfect tense verbs in v.1 and imperfect in v.2, which the Septuagint interprets as perfect and future respectively.
3. Martin Luther, Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 40-66 (Hilton C. Oswald, ed; Luther’s Works 17; St. Louis: Concordia, 1972) 347.