By Debbonnaire Kovacs, Dec 30, 2015
“Fast away the old year passes…” The older one gets, the faster the seasons turn, until they’re nothing but a blur. Since I began following the liturgical calendar, I have become even more aware of this in a way; Jesus’ incarnation and birth are celebrated in December, at what is seen as the beginning of the church year, his baptism is celebrated early in January, his death in early spring, his resurrection in later spring, and the works of the early church through the summer, culminating in Christ the King Sunday, the last week before Advent begins the round again. Throughout, of course, the ministry of Christ on earth and of the Holy Spirit now and always are celebrated above all. The point of the thing—the point of everything at least in my view—is salvation.
The Old Testament passage this “in-between week,” is from Isaiah 61:10-62:3, and I am fascinated by the varied imagery of salvation in this one passage.
There are, of course, multiple Bible passages speaking of the “robe of righteousness,” of “putting on” righteousness and the virtues it brings in its train, and even of putting on armor. Too many put these things on in a more modern metaphor—as a false front. The prophets, Old and New Testament, meant to live and move and have our being in this garment.
The garland is for the victor—or even for the ruler. In this context, it represents the victory we cannot win, but are given freely, like the devoted love of a bridegroom.
Years ago when I was studying everything the Bible says about jewelry, and discovering that the Puritan idea of jewelry being wrong is simply not biblical, this was one of the final sources of conviction. You won’t find the Bible comparing righteousness or salvation to an unclean or sinful thing. But the bride’s dowry, her safety for future rainy days, her beauty for her husband—that’s a wonderful picture of salvation.
I see two kinds of imagery speaking here. First, there is the organic nature of this growth—“springing up before all the nations.” Gardeners and farmers plant and water and tend, but not the most insensate one thinks he or she causes that growth. Only the Creator can do that. Secondly, salvation is not something cold and rigid, it is a nurturing, life-giving, ever-renewing source of life and strength and health.
Light, of course, is one of the major symbols for God and righteousness in the entire Bible. Here are two vastly different kinds of light—the dawn from the mighty sun, under no control or interference from us, and a burning torch, which we can light, and put out, and think to have control over…but that fire, like the vegetation, comes only from God.
This image had far more meaning in early societies than it does to us. Your name was far more than a handy label that prevents your friends and family from calling you “Hey You.” Your name was your self; not just your identity, but your definition. A new name, according to some Native Americans I know, can only be given by the Creator directly, or by an elder (who presumably got it from the Creator’s inspiration.) When you align yourself with the Creator, you get a new identity, and a name to match. (What is yours? Do you know?)
Crown of beauty/royal diadem
This is the best and highest of this set of images—your new identity is a royal one! You are a child of God! A princess or a prince! But the best words of all are the last…”in the hand of your God.”
In the hand (utter safety) of your God—your mate, your gardener, the Light of your life.
May you live in the strength of the Great Reality shadowed in these images,
all this New Year and until he comes again.