Thy God Reigneth
For Epiphany (Jan. 6), the Episcopal daily office lectionary gives us for Morning Prayer in odd-numbered years Isaiah 52:7-10. It is an inspired choice.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation, that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!
Here the prophet Isaiah speaks to Israel in hard, alienating times. The reason Israel is in hard times is because of God himself: God has exiled Israel for its unfaithfulness, its moral corruption, its abandonment of the law, its failure to walk before the Lord in the ways of holiness. But God still loves Israel, and the time has come for reconciliation.
So there is a messenger coming with good tidings of “peace” and of “salvation,” news that God is going to effect peace between himself and his people and is going to save his people from oppression and alienation and bring them home. The news is beautiful, and for that very reason the messenger is beautiful, even down to his feet—although surely his feet are blistered and dirty! The news makes everything beautiful even before what it announces comes to pass.
The most important line is this: Thy God reigneth!
A problem many of us have is that we spiritualize the reign of God. We think, although God does reign over my heart, he doesn’t reign over the United States (or the republic of Texas, or whatever). This is not true and it shrinks the impact of the good tidings that the messenger brings. God reigns over everything! He is the king over kings, he rules nations; in the end, not only individuals come to his throne for judgment but nations do also. This means, for instance, that America is a real thing with an eternal destiny for good or for ill. (Likewise, Texas, Dallas, and Texarkana.) The good news includes the news that good government is coming: government that will protect us, government that will provide true judgment, government that will serve our true identity.
On Epiphany, God’s light shines forth not only upon Israel, upon Zion, but upon all nations, all humanity, every person. The light shows that the king has indeed come. Thy God reigneth! Jesus is the king of the universe, the governor over all governors, the law-giver over all lawgivers, the judge of every judge. He will save us from wrong that we do and wrong that is done to us, from all that is hard and alienating. He will judge decisively between right and wrong. And he will give us our true identity as a people, an identity to which history has given the name “Christian.”
On the Web. Sunday, January 24, I will be teaching a class for the church of the Annunciation in Lewisville, Tex., on friendship. This will be online. More info to come.