December 13, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture: Isaiah 61:10-11 (NRSV)
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
Easter is where the story of Isaiah 61 is ultimately going. Advent prepares us for the moment when Jesus enters our world, fully one of us while fully God Himself. But it also prepares us for that moment when Jesus, fully one of us and fully God, lays down his life to save us, his brothers and sisters.
In yesterday’s devotion, we looked at the first part of Isaiah’s beautiful prophecy in chapter 61 of what the restored Kingdom of God will look like. (It’s part of a much longer poetic vision, by the way, which takes up all of Isaiah 60-62 and is well worth meditating on. If you’re familiar with Messiah, as we mentioned yesterday, you’ll particularly recognize Isaiah 60:1-3).
In the first part of Isaiah 61, we heard mostly about what the messenger of the Lord who proclaims this message of the Kingdom is called to do—a description, as we noted yesterday, that Jesus applied to his own ministry. In Isaiah 61:4-7, the Lord speaks directly at further length about the restoration that will happen. The restored Israel will experience flourishing, joy, and renewal of the covenant, and will become an example to the nations.
In Isaiah 61:8-11, we see the response of God’s messenger to this amazing message as the flourishing spreads into his own life. First of all, his sins will be forgiven and he will be covered with righteousness. Wedding imagery in the Bible is often used to express the relationship of God to his people, and this is a wonderful example. The robe of righteousness that God puts on the speaker is just like wedding finery, the jewels, and the garlands of a bride and groom.
But God’s forgiveness is only the beginning of what God plans to do: now the speaker moves from the story of a wedding to the story of a garden. Gardens are not static. (Neither, of course, are good marriages). You plant things in gardens, you water and tend them, and they grow. This is what God will do in the life of the speaker and in the life of Israel, he assures us. God will grow a new crop: not figs and dates or apples and oranges, but righteousness and praise themselves will spring up out of the ground for the healing of the nations.
Some months ago, when we were in the Easter season, my daughter asked me for a lullaby. “Sing a quiet Easter song,” she said. “Are there any quiet Easter songs?” asked my husband. I thought for a moment and said, “Now The Green Blade Riseth.”
This hymn, in case you don’t know it, is an Easter hymn written in the 1920s to the tune of the old French Christmas carol Noël Nouvelet. The carol is a delightful medieval picture of the nativity, well worth a listen. The Easter words, though, pick up on the garden metaphor, with an amazing picture of Jesus himself springing up from the grave like plants from a garden:
“Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.”
Why bring this Easter song up now, two weeks before Christmas? Because Easter is where the story of Isaiah 61 is ultimately going. Advent prepares us for the moment when Jesus enters our world, fully one of us while fully God Himself. But it also prepares us for that moment when Jesus, fully one of us and fully God, lays down his life to save us, his brothers and sisters.
And, finally, it prepares us for the moment yet to come when Love will come again forever, and the whole world will be filled with righteousness and praise.
What do you need forgiveness for? Where do you need to forgive?
Where are you looking for the growth of righteousness and praise in your own life?
How can you help others tend their gardens so that God can grow righteousness?
Listen to the Christmas and Easter versions of Noël Nouvelet/“Now The Green Blade Rises.” (Here’s a translation of the Christmas version). Ponder the great mysteries of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. Sit with your pondering and allow these great events to become fully real to you.
Lord Jesus, thank you for forgiving me and clothing me in righteousness. Thank you for tending my garden and helping me grow in righteousness. May I serve your coming Kingdom, now and always. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: Would You Throw Jesus Off a Cliff?
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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