Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Durability of God's Word

"Yahweh has planned comfort for the exiles, and none can prevent it." (Walter Brueggemann)

Isaiah proper (chapters 1-39) ends on a note of destruction and despair. Israel's unfaithfulness will not go unpunished. (Isa 39:5-8) Judah will lose its king, city, temple and people; "... nothing shall be left, says the Lord." (39:6) Babylon snuffed out the kingdom of Judah in 586 BC, and took the people into exile as the Assyrians had done previously to the kingdom of Israel (2Kings 17:-6). And just as all seems lost for good, there comes a prophecy from God. 'Second Isaiah' speaks a word of comfort and grace to the people; God will come to them, their exile will end, and they will return home to the promised land. This "comfort" is more than consolation; rather it is God's solidarity and presence with the suffering of the people. Their exile is to end, and they will return home across the desert to the promised land.(Isa 40:1-5; see also Isa 35:8-10) The performative word of God (Isa 40:5,8) has cataclysmic implications for the empire of Babylon. It must fall to let the people go (Isa 40:10-11; Jeremiah 51:34-37; see also Exodus 5:1), and it did in 536 BC, conquered by the ruler of the Medes and Persians, God's (pagan!) servant of judgement, King Cyrus. (See Isa 45:1-7) God's forgiveness of the sins of the people leads from exile to homecoming for Israel; for Babylon it means the defeat of their power and the destruction of their empire. (Isa 40:10) The fall of pagan empire and the return home is not dependent on the strength of mere mortals but rests on God's resolve and decree. (Isa 40:6-8) God will do this. (Isa 40:9-11)

There is an excess in the prophecy of Isaiah 40 that finds its fulfilment in John the Baptist's preaching and ministry. (Mk 1:1-8; Lk 3) God is now acting in Jesus decisively for all those who find themselves in exile and in need of homecoming. This includes the physical exiles and prisoners (see Matt 25:31-46; Lk 4:18-19), the excluded from society, those in need of healing, and all those who know their need and seek their true home.(Matt 11:28-30) The God of grace encountered by Israel now through Israel reaches out to the whole of humankind in Jesus Christ. And like the word that brought the people from exile to homecoming, this word will also accomplish God's will.

"And the Word became flesh ..." (Jn 1:14)

[Advent 2(B), Isaiah 40:1-11; Mk 1:1-8]

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