One thing I’ve observed during Christmas time is that pastors usually go to either Matthew or Luke, and sometimes to John to preach on the incarnation of the Son of God. Over and over again, year after year… But the truth of the matter is, we have such a vast ocean of text in our Scriptures to talk about the coming of the Messiah that we need not exhaust the birth narratives in the Gospels to a point that from time to time the minister has to go into the psyche of Mary or the Shepherds.
I’m not saying this because I find myself in the Protestant tradition but Mary is not the real actor or who needs to be preached about during this season. It is the long expected Messiah of Israel who will bring both the future and the past of Israel in his own person and erect his church right in the middle of all that.
In the vein, Isaiah’s story is such a story. But it also teaches us how to do hermeneutics. How to interpret the Scriptures. Just as my Old Testament professor, Dr. Douglas Gropp has taught me, “The Old Testament does not contain Messianic prophecies later to be fulfilled, the entire Old Testament is about the Messiah”. Isaiah 60 is such a text that speaks volumes about the greatness of incarnation and how the people of God should reorient their hopes around it.
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.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
hthe wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD.
A quick look at this text should bring the images of the birth narratives to our minds. The verse 6 talks about those who come from Midian and Ephah and Sheba, bringing gold, and frankincense. The wise men who visited the infant Jesus are thought to be from Arabia because frankincense is found in Arabia. But as we read the prophecy of Isaiah a bit further, we see something truly amazing.
Foreigners shall build up your walls,
and their kings shall minister to you;
for in my wrath I struck you,
but in my favor I have had mercy on you.
Your gates shall be open continually;
day and night they shall not be shut,
wthat people may bring to you the wealth of the nations,
with their kings led in procession.
So who is this you that the prophet is talking about? The wall and the gates of the city are probably referring to Jerusalem. And here comes the genius of Luke and Matthew and the way they told their stories. We don’t see in the Scriptures these things happening to Jerusalem, but we do see them in the story of Jesus’ birth. If we were to read these texts along with the Gospel accounts, we can see that Matthew and Luke want us to see this Jesus as the embodiment of Jerusalem and all that she meant to be to the people of God.
Around the child there was a great light and the glory of the Lord appeared. To the child came Arab wise men from desert on camels bringing gold and frankincense. Shepherds visited the child, not the city. The great hopes for the city were transferred to the child in a manger.
Once again, the authors of the New Testament urge us to look at Jesus the Messiah and see in him the hope of Israel and not look at the city Jerusalem and ignore her rightful King Messiah. Jesus is Jerusalem and all that she has ever hoped to be. This does not mean that the earthly elements in Isaiah 60 should be relativized. They have their own meaning and place in the history of redemption but it is hard to deny the fact that the Gospel writers did see this Jesus as someone who encompassed everything God has promised to his people. So now we await the New Jerusalem. Similarly, we do not await the city, we await the one who dwells in the city, Jesus. Maybe this is why it is called the New Jerusalem, not because it was a new model for the old Jerusalem but because the real Jerusalem, Jesus Christ, is at the center of it.
Works: Kenneth Bailey: Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes