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Isaiah 60:1-1

The sunrise that sticks with me was a trip across the Grand Canyon that started at 3:30 in the morning. We were at the bottom of the world’s biggest hole when the sun started to touch the red rock of the north side. There was a very long day ahead of us, but I will never forget what it was to be in that literal, physical and mental darkness and to see the light of the sun just touch that rock as we crossed the Colorado River. It gave me what I needed to press on knowing that there was life and light beyond this huge (and glorious) pit.

 

The call of Isaiah at this moment is to a specific person or personified “you.” It turns out to be Jerusalem. The “you” of Isaiah is 60 is feminine and both v. 14 and the habit of all of Isaiah point to identifying this as Jerusalem. More important is the interplay here between God’s action and Jerusalem/Zion’s.[1]

 

Jerusalem is to arise, for the Lord will arise upon her (v. 2). She is to shine (אוֹרִי) because “your light” (אוֹרֵךְ) has come. There is this movement between God’s originating action and Jerusalem’s responsive action. But rather than their lack of originality being some kind of problem, we see it begin the process that God has desired all along. Jerusalem is centered as the source of God’s light into the broader darkness. God’s glory will become Jerusalem’s glory: the glory of a bride adorned, drawing the attention of every king and nation on earth.

 

Much of the scholarship would place chapters 60-66 of Isaiah at the time of the return from exile, sometime in the late 6th c. BC. It is hard to imagine a bigger pit than a chastened and newly un-exiled people looking around their ruined land. Who is going to rebuild this place? Why even rebuild? It would be so much easier to just cut our losses and start over somewhere else. You’ve got tensions with the community who stuck around the land and those who are just coming back. You have outside pressures and competing visions of the good within the community. What are you even supposed to do? How is a weak and attenuated community supposed to even go about this project?

 

Isaiah calls them to arise! Shine! It’s not your glory that you are shining forth (v. 2). And it’s not even for your sake. The mission of Israel has never really been about Israel. It is coming from God through Israel for the sake of the kings and nations (the world) so that God might be glorified. What higher purpose could their be? What deeper beauty could we hope to participate in?

 

The fact that the church reads this on Epiphany is, of course, not accidental. The Magi are not some weird addition to an otherwise totally normal story. They are critical to the vision of God’s glory taking up residence in the person of Jesus Christ, built within the womb of Mary and now being worshiped in a suburban house outside Jerusalem. They are the foretaste of the nations streaming into Zion from Micah 4 and Isaiah 2. They are the foretaste, even, of the second Pentecost of Acts 10 when Peter discovers that this Way of Jesus is not simply a tweak on the Messianic hope of Israel, but a promise which is for all peop