Zephaniah 3:14-20 – Sing aloud, O daughter Zion… The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies.

Isaiah 12:2-6 – First Song of Isaiah: 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.

Philippians 4:4-7 – Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!

Luke 3:7-18 – John the Baptist: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?

Thoughts: First Song of Isaiah by Jack Noble White

The First Song of Isaiah

Let me begin by commending to you the Isaiah passage for the psalm. If you want to love this passage, listen to it. Consider singing in worship:

Beautiful text. Singable refrain for the congregation. Parts for the choir. Instantly downloadable.

The First Song of Isaiah

Refrain

Surely, it is God who saves me;
I will trust and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense,
and God will be my Savior.

1 Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing
from the springs of salvation
and on that day you shall say,
“Give thanks to the Lord
and call upon God’s name.” [Refrain]

2 Make God’s deeds known among the peoples;
see that they remember that the Lord is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord,
for God has done great things
and this is known in all the world. [Refrain]

3 Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion;
ring out your joy,
for the great one in the midst of you
is the Holy One of Israel. [Refrain]

The lectionary begins with verse two; however, the text is best understood with verse one included: “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.” There is a form here. Note that “You will say in that day” appears twice, in verses one and four, both times followed up with a thanksgiving. This is written to be sung.

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.
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.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

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.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

What strikes me about this passage of hope is how early this passage of hope appears in Isaiah. Isaiah is an 8th century prophet of Judah, the southern kingdom. Israel, to the north, has been crushed by Assyria. Judah must decide whether to play nice with the powerful Assyrian armies to the north or with Egypt, the powerful army to the south. Do we form an alliance?

Chapters 1-39 are Isaiah’s prophecies of judgment against the people of Judah, for worshipping foreign gods, and the priests for greed. Hopeful passages don’t come until later in Isaiah, passages like Isaiah 40: Comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her, that her sins are forgiven and her warfare is over. Later, these prophecies from after the fall of Judah and the Babylonian Captivity, speak a word of hope, promising to rebuild Jerusalem, the temple and the community.

This passage, however, comes from Isaiah 12, early in the book, nestled in the midst of many prophecies of judgment. The message may be here that even in the midst of judgment there is hope. Judgment is spoken in the context of a future hope.

When a parent grounds a child for doing something wrong, it must always be done with love, from the context of our overarching love for our children. Our sins bring with them consequences, but God’s love is always with us, even when we are mired in the consequences of our sins.

Likewise for us, when we are in the midst of trials and tribulations, we sing songs of praise like Isaiah 12. Surely God saves me. I will trust and not be afraid, for God is my stronghold and sure defense. Cry aloud, sing out your joy.

It occurs to me that learning to sing songs of praise in the midst of tribulation is an important lesson to learn. This only comes with maturity and possibly with age. Can we see our suffering in the context of the larger blessing of life? Can we see the moment through the eyes of thanksgiving and hope, as did the apostle Paul, who taught the church to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and who was able to rejoice even from a jail cell?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-6)

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