Scripture: Isaiah 62:1-5
Jimmy Stewart is one of the best known actors from Hollywood’s golden age. He had long an influential career that spanned decades and throughout his life he racked up 92 credits to his name. With that many acting credits, it is inevitable that he would have a few films that did not perform well. Stewart served in WWII, and his biggest acting career flop turned out to be his first role after the war. The film got a mostly negative critical reception, it lost $525,000 which translates to over five million dollars today, and it caused the producing studio to close. The failure of this film set off the low point in Stewart’s career that took a few years to recover from. This under-performing movie that caused all of this is a sentimental story called “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Today “It’s a Wonderful Life” has found new life. The movie was not held in high esteem for decades, and this led to an oversight where the copyright was not renewed and the movie fell into the public domain. Local TV affiliates all over the country began broadcasting the movie on Christmas because it cost them so little to do so compared to other programming. This caused the movie to re-enter the public consciousness in the 70’s-80’s. By the 1990’s the movie had cemented itself as a Christmas classic, and in 2007 when the American Film Institute released their list of the 100 greatest movies of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life was ranked #20. This movie was panned when it was released and it languished in obscurity for decades before people began to recognize the beauty of it. In a lot of ways that is similar to the message of this morning’s scripture: Even in our lowest times God still recognizes our sacred worth and inherent beauty. This morning’s scripture was a message that the ancient Israelites needed to hear and it is one we still need to hear today.
Isaiah is a large book with 66 chapters, and it is commonly accepted today that Isaiah was not written all at one time, but rather it is a compilation. It is likely that disciples of Isaiah compiled the book and recorded it after his lifetime. The last several chapters, sometimes called 3 Isaiah, are something of an appendix. These chapters are hard to date because they seemingly come from different times of Isaiah’s life. These are prophecies, events, and writings of Isaiah that did not seem to fit anywhere else, and instead of leaving them on the cutting room floor, the editors of Isaiah, jammed it all onto the end. This means that dating the writings from the end of Isaiah can be tricky. The composition, origin, and dates for the writings of the end of Isaiah is an area where biblical scholarship is all over the place and there are a lot of competing thoughts. While the details of how they get to this conclusion differ, nearly all scholarship agrees that the subject of this morning’s scripture are the Jewish people in exile.
The exile is one of the biggest events of the Old Testament. The Israelites spent generations in rebellion against God. The simple covenant was that they would be God’s people and God would be there God. However, king after king led the Israelites further into idolatry. After David, there were a handful of good ones who tried to steer the ship straight, but it was never enough. Many of the Old Testament prophets are full of dire warnings. They urge the Israelites to turn from the idolatry they were committing and stop the injustices they were perpetuating. The prophets warned that if the Israelites did not stop then there would be a judgement. The prophets were universally clear that this judgement would be an invading force ravaging the land, destroying the cities, and taking the people into captivity. The people did not heed the warnings, and in 597 BCE, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian king. While not every man, woman, and child was removed from the land a sizable portion was hauled off into exile. The book of Lamentations contains the Jewish sorrow they experienced, and the story of Esther shows the dire straits the Jews often found themselves in during this time.
However, even with the warning of destruction and the prophecies of exile, the prophets often included promises of restoration. That is exactly what this morning’s scripture from Isaiah is. It is a promise that God does not give up on us. We can see that message played out in this morning’s scripture. That is why it begins with the declaration, “for Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet.” In exile the nation of Israel was defeated and shamed. We get a sense of how the people felt from the book of Lamentations. Lamentations 5:15-16 soberly records, “Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned into mourning. The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, for we have sinned.”
This morning’s scripture though offers what the restoration will look like and says the people “will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” The scripture then continues with a beautiful analogy of marriage to illustrate what this restoration will look like. This is what the part of the scripture that had those odd names is all about: “But you will be called Hephzibah and your land Beaulah.” The word Hephzibah means “My delight is in her.” One of the reasons why the word was transliterated instead of translated is because elsewhere in the Bible the word Hephzibah is used as a proper name. the implication here, is that the renewal is going be so complete that is not just a retribution but it is a resurrection. It will be a recreation, a new life. The word Beaulah means marriage, and this restoration will be the renewal of the covenant. God will be there God and they will be God’s people. By and large this is what happened, the Jews returned from exile and they never returned to the sin of idolatry. They committed to trying to follow the law found in the Torah, and it was out of this post-exile tradition that Jesus emerged to be the ultimate fulfillment of resurrection and reconciliation with God.
The Old Testament rarely deals with people on an individual level, but rather it addresses the entire people group because the covenant was with the people collectively. This morning’s scripture is very much in that vein, and it is clearly addressing the Jews in exile as a collective group. However, the truths contained in this morning’s scripture are just as relevant to us today as they were to the Israelites when it was written.
When I think of those truths, I cannot help but think of my children. I am sure this has been true in different ways for every generation, but being a parent is hard. Being a parent today is hard, because it seems it is impossible to do it right. One parenting expert says that “so and so is the right way to raise a child” but then another says “No that way is wrong, you need to do it that way”, then a third one says, “This is the only right way to do it if you do not want to mess your child up for life.” On some days this makes it seem that being a good parent is nearly impossible to get right. A good example of this is complementing a child is incredibly hard. I am not so supposed to tell my daughter she is beautiful, even though she is, because research has shown doing so can make herself conscious about her physical identity. In the same way, I am not supposed to tell my son how smart he is, because again research shows that doing so can create unrealistic performance pressure. Despite what the research says, I still do reassure my daughter that I think she is beautiful and I do let my son known from time to time how smart I think he is. However, my go to and favorite compliment to bestow upon my children is to look them right in the eye and tell them in all truthfulness, “You are one of my favorite people.”
That is the same truth of this morning’s scripture. Verse four states, “For the LORD will take delight in you.” Think about the depth of what that means. What is it that makes God happy and brings God joy? According to this scripture, it is you, it is me, it is us “for the LORD will take delight in you. Again, this morning’s scripture was written in reference to a whole people group, but the cross is more than proof that this truth applies to us individually as well. On the cross Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins for the whole world, but also for each of us individually. I sincerely believe that if the only person that Jesus could save by dying was me, then he still would have done it. I believe that is true for each of us, we are not just a sea of faces to God, but we are individuals, deeply loved, and with sacred worth. We are people that the Lord takes delight in. In short, we are one of God’s favorite people.
That is a simple, but powerful truth that we should not forget, and that we should keep on the forefront of our minds. Fortunately, none of us have gone through the trauma of national exile but we all have times of darkness and hopelessness in our lives. Some of us have been like the Israelites where we have broken faith with God. Despite God’s ongoing goodness and faithfulness to us, we coldly and defiantly turned our backs on our Creator. Many of us have also gone through rough patches where it seems the only news is bad news, and it feels like the story of our life becomes “and then it got worse.” Some of us have even reached places where just getting out of bed in the morning feels like a triumph because of how much energy it takes. We may never have experienced exile but we have experienced loss; we have experienced uncertainty, anxiety, and depression. We have experienced what it means to be empty and devoid of hope.
It is in those times that scriptures like this morning’s speak most powerfully. For when we feel lost, alone, and hopeless God says “For your sake I will not keep silent, for your sake I will not remain quiet.” This morning’s scripture is all about the restoration of hope and it is about the hope of deliverance. God delivered the Israelites from their sin and exile. God still delivers us from our sin and God still delivers us from the times we feel lost and hopeless. The truth of this morning’s scripture is that God will not be silent, and the message God gives us is “I am not giving up on you.”
It does not matter how far we get from God, God does not give up on us. It does not matter how much we view yourselves as a failure, a waste, or any other hateful words we use to describe ourselves during low and dark times. Because that is not how God views us. In this world of uncertainty, there are very few things that I am not 100% sure about, but I am absolutely certain in the love that God has for us. I am absolutely certain that no matter who we are, what we have done, what flaws we might have that to God we are beautiful. I am certain that the LORD delights in us, because we are some of God’s favorite people.
No matter what you are going through in life right now, may you claim that truth in your life. In the center of your uncertainty, heartache, or anxiety may you cling to the unforgettable truth that God loves you, God does not give up on you, and you are one of God’s favorites. May you turn to the God of love, the God of forgiveness, and the God to whom you can be reconciled. May you know that as this morning’s scripture states, God will rejoice of you.