Isaiah 12 is the Revised Standard Lectionary reading for Advent 3. Well, actually the official reading is Isaiah 12:2-6. But, since verse 1 and 4 are parallel (“In that day, you will say. . .”), I have no idea why the lectionary leaves out verse 1. I certainly would read it in church.
But let me just concentrate on verse 2. My translation:
Behold, God is my salvation. I will trust, and will not be afraid; for YH, YHWH, is my strength and song; and he has become my salvation.”
I am not sure why Isaiah uses both the short and long form of the divine name. I doubt anyone would need the long form to explain the short form. Possibly there is a doubling of the name for emphasis. The name was used both ways in song. The powerful God praised in song provides Isaiah with strength and salvation.
Isaiah lived through the time when Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, invaded Judah and shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a “bird in a cage” in the words of one of Sennacherib’s inscriptions.
The fact that Jerusalem did not fall was probably the salvation of Isaiah’s gratitude.
Yet this is a fitting pre-Christmas reading for Christians, because everything points to future events–”in that day”. Yes, Isaiah believed God had saved Jerusalem from Assyria. Still, there was more to God’s salvation than that. Someday Jerusalem would play a part in even greater events. God would act in a way to inspire even greater praise.
Isaiah 12 speaks to our need for trust and calm in the face of incomprehensible world events.
I admit that I am afraid. For instance, I am afraid because the Middle East seems to spawn people who hate others more than they love their own lives. At least during the Cold War we could count on the Soviets to restrain their behavior in their own self interest. Today I am afraid we have enemies who don’t care about their own self interest.
I am also afraid of the central banks and legislatures around the world who think governments can create money and value by decree. It seems to work for a while, which perpetuates the cycle and insures a very bad ending to it all.
Yet I am religious and have read a lot of history. There have been a lot of bad endings. Isaiah had seen some of them. Nevertheless, he says he will “trust and not be afraid.” It helped that he had seen at least the salvation of Jerusalem from the Assyrian army. I am sure that all of us have seen some short-term good endings.
If there is a God who is stronger than death and catastophe, then that God can be our strength and song and salvation.
I have just watched the English movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The Indian hotel promoter, Sonny, says, “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.” I find it interesting that a movie that adopts a Hindu perspective has this eschatology. In his own way Isaiah could have said this. “In that day” there will be reason for praise, not despair.