“Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2 NRSV)
Imagine a war-torn landscape. Bombs have destroyed the city, leveling almost all of the homes and buildings. At the center of it sits a church, miraculously still standing but in need of a roof. The Christians gather to help those left behind. They worship in each others’ homes until they can afford to replace the roof. It’s dangerous to meet and worship God, but they do it anyway.
Somehow they manage to repair the roof and they’re able to worship again in their church. They could leave and move somewhere more hospitable. But, they decide to remain.
Hope in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation in Syria.
In nearby Iraq, a church has taken in several families: about 70 men, women and children. They help feed and clothe them and provide them with shelter. Some of these refugees are Christian, some are Muslim. The church is serving those who are hurt regardless of religious affiliation. What’s important to them is serving those in need.
Hope is found in the midst of hopelessness.
These Christians are light in the darkness of war and terrorism.
Perhaps they read this section of Isaiah in order to sustain their hope.
The exiled Jews in Babylon would understand hopeless situations. They lost their homeland and they surely wonder if God is finished with them. Living in a strange land with strange customs and multiple gods, they feel the hopelessness of their lot.
So Isaiah reminds them who they are and to whom they belong. The first part of the passage is a personal message: God is my salvation. God can be relied on. God is strength and my might. With joy I will draw strength from God.
But, Isaiah isn’t finished. He has a message for the community: to those in Babylon 2500 years ago and to you and me and people all over the world. All of you will give thanks and call on God’s name. All of us can make God’s mighty deeds known and we will proclaim that God’s name is exalted. Sing praises. Even in the hard times, sing praises, because God is with us.
This scripture passage is a song. It is a song that can be sung during both peaceful and traumatic events. Rolf Jacobson of Luther Seminary suggests that Isaiah is helping the exiles find their faith by praising God. But he warns us not to take the easy way out. “Is it easier to say to a person who is struggling with their faith, ‘You just have to believe,’ Or is it easier to say, ‘Let’s pray.'” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2704)
The words they “sing” in this passage can be found in other parts of the Bible. This is a reminder of the God to whom we belong and that this God is faithful. By singing what is familiar, they find comfort and hope in what appears to be a hopeless situation.
We have our own familiar hymns:
“Bring peace, O Lord,” we pray. “O come, O come Immanuel,” we sing.
“Carry me, Lord. I haven’t the strength to go it alone.” “Comfort, comfort, you my people,” we sing.
When we can do nothing more but live in trauma, we sing or recite the 23rd Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd…”
These words from Isaiah are as important to us today as they’ve ever been to countless generations who come before us. In Syria and Iraq; Paris and Mali and San Bernadino; in Ferguson, Baltimore or Charleston. In times of terror and and times of fear and times of grief.
Will we allow these things to define us? Will we put our trust in politicians and news media and uninformed people? Or will we seek strength and comfort from God? Will we huddle in fear and terror? Or will we boldly state, “I WILL give thanks to you, O Lord!” Can we live as if we truly believe that, “God is our salvation, our strength and our might.”?
If so, then perhaps it’s time to pause and sing:
“Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaish 12:4b-6)
All glory and honor be to God.