Shout & Sing For Joy As One
Preached on November 17, 2002.
1. "Shout for joy, sing out together, o ruins of Jerusalem," (verse nine). It's an explosive shout of cheer. It's an earth-shaking jubilant chorus. But, it wasn't a beautifully re-built Jerusalem who was invited to this extremely great rejoicing. Despite the fact that Jerusalem that had been turned to ruins was still in ruins, and despite the fact it was still in miserable torn down shape, they were given a call to "Shout for joy, sing out together." Why in the world was that? The words that come immediately after this call to sing for joy continue with, "The Lord has comforted those people and redeemed Jerusalem." Right at the front of this stych it isn't translated, but a very short word stands there that could be translated as "because." In other words, this is the reason that the scripture says "shout for joy," it is the basis for it. It is because of two things from the Lord: "comfort" and "redemption." Today let's give some thought together to these [two] points.
The Lord Has Comforted The People
2. But yet, the Japanese for "comfort" seems to have a quite wishywashy ring to it. To be honest, this word "comfort" was one of the words I used to dislike. When I was in seminary I often heard the phrase "Preachers give a word of comfort" off the lips of my professors. When they said that I couldn't stop myself from getting creeped out by it. I wondered why that was. Probably in my head I was thinking that "comfort" was akin to just "a bunch of words to soothe the soul." That probably came from my own experience. Actually, I have never found the "right" words for people really hurting. The person doing the talking knows right well that even if you speak of comfort it is just a bunch of words with no substantial power. But, rather the other way around, when a person is hurting, those [supposed] words of comfort might just as well be felt as irritating. That's how I feel that there are times when "comfort" is akin to "mere consolation, just lip service."
3. But, I don't think that what the scripture is speaking about here is that kind of comfort; in fact, it certainly is not. -- Because if "comfort" amounted to no more than "consoling words" then it wouldn't be something that brings "cheer" or "songs of joy." The scriptures here must be talking about something very powerful that brings about decisive revolutionary change.
4. I suggest that the important thing to understand in this is not "the comfort" that is spoken of here first, but "the ruins" being spoken to. What did the scriptures say before this about Jerusalem which had become ruins? Going back to chapter fifty-one and verse seventeen, the text reads as follows: "Wake up, wake up, get back up, Jerusalem. O capital that has drunk from the cup of wrath from the hand of the Lord and has drunk to the bottom of the wobbling great cup." It was the Babylonian army who actually destroyed Jerusalem. But, the prophet looks at the destroyed and ruined Jerusalem from a totally different perspective. He sees the judgment of the Lord there. He is looking at the phenomenon of the wrath of God. [After all the dust has settled], that is what the ruins in Jerusalem has meant.
5. But with a complete turnaround "comfort" is spoken to that Jerusalem. The Lord himself, who displayed his wrath, will visit Jerusalem as "its comforter." He says, "I, God, I indeed, am your comforter," (51:12). What that means is obvious. It can only mean forgiveness of sin and nothing except that. Jerusalem had certainly been under the wrath of God. But, that anger was now taken away. "Thus says the Lord, the Lord our God, who takes up the case of his people. Behold, I will take away from your hands the wobbling cup. You will not drink again from the great cup of my wrath," (51:22), says the Lord.
6. The removal of God's wrath means a decisive and complete change about for them. From there on their fate would change. For that reason they are addressed with "Wake up, wake up, get back up, Jerusalem." In chapter fifty-two, it says, "Cheer up, cheer up, put on strength, o Zion. Put on bright clothing. O holy captial Jerusalem," (52:1). Jerusalem can get back up again from its ruins. - Because its sins are forgiven. Because they will no longer be under the wrath of God. This is the comfort of the Lord. With this it's not just mere words of peace, but true comfort. They have a comfort that has real power. The Lord has comforted the people. Consequently, the ruins of Jerusalem can give cheer and sing with joy.
The Lord Has Redeemed Jerusalem
7. Furthermore, the text has it that "(The Lord) has redeemed Jerusalem." The word "redeem" is one of the key words repeated in this book. The same word is translated in verse three as "buy back." This word "redeem" or "buy back" was originally a term in ancient family law in Israel. For instance, it is found in Leviticus chapter twenty-five. In the case of a someone becoming poor and selling his land, his relatives bore the duty to buy it back into the family. Or in the case of a poor person selling himself and becoming someone's slave, his brothers and any blood relative of his tribe can buy him back. In this way he uses "redeem" to mean buy back land or people. Also, it called the clansman with the duty to buy back "the redeemer (the goel)."
8. The phrase that "I have redeemed Jerusalem" has this kind of background to it. When it says, "I have redeemed" it, it means that it had been in a state of slavery up to then. Actually in verse two, [God] calls them "captive Jerusalem" and "captive daughter of Zion." This certainly points to their having been subjugated by the Chaldeans. But, this same Zion/Jerusalem is bought back by the Lord. The Lord says, "You, who were sold for next to nothing, are bought back but not with silver." (52:3).
9. Actually in that time period there was great change politically speaking. It changed from Babylonian rule to Persian rule. The new ruler Cyrus the king of Persia sponsored a policy of respecting the cultures and religions of the subjugated peoples. Therefore, an edict in regard for the captive Israelites was issued and they were permitted to repatriate back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. In that sense, the captives were certainly freed. This must have been a surprisingly great event.
10. But, the really great thing was not the political changes themselves. It was the change in the relationship between the Lord and the people. It was the fact that the Lord redeemed his people and he redeemed Jerusalem. The captives returned to Zion as a people bought back out. As I said before, it was the wrath of God and the judgment of God that was manifested by the ruins at Jerusalem. They were sold and became slaves because of their indebtedness to sin. With compassion and forgiveness, going beyond normal, the Lord bought back these people, even Jerusalem which was not worth buying back. He made them his.
11. Therefore, it was no longer the king of Babylon or the king of Persia who was ruling over them. The Lord was enthroned as their king. As Lord ruling over both Babylonia and Persia, as Lord over all the earth, he was returning back to [his] capital city that belonged to him as their king. Of course, when it will happen is being given as the future. In the world right then and there Persia was in control of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was still in ruins. It may seem like nothing will ever change. But, things already have taken place. In their relationship with God, decisive transformations have already happened. The Lord has redeemed Jerusalem. As a result, the ruins in Jerusalem do not now need to sit in grief. They can cheer and sing together with joy.
Shout For Joy, Sing Out Together
12. Well, whether going by the Roman Catholic Church's lectionary or "The Revised Common Lectionary" that many Protestant churches utilize, today's passage of scripture is considered one of the scriptures to be read at Christmas. I would say that this is a very appropriate scripture because when we think of the birth of God's son and when we think of how he was crucified for our sins, the words of this prophet come ringing in with a fresh sound. The words of "Shout for joy, sing out together, o ruins of Jerusalem" really do become a call for us. - Because the comfort of God's people, which he spoke at that time through his prophets, and the redemption of Jerusalem were completely revealed in the days after through Jesus His son and through Jesus' birth and death. In Him God's comfort was manifested. The wrath of God was removed. Because God's son drank to the bottom of the great cup of wrath, the cup of wrath upon us was taken off. Furthermore, the redemption that comes through God was truly accomplished without silver. We were redeemed and became God's through the life of God's son and through the blood that he shed.
13. Also, this good news is being told to us, too. It is as the text says, "How beautiful are the feet of those who go around the mountains and tell the good news," (verse seven). Also, it calls out to us to "shout for joy, sing out together." That's why we celebrate Christmas this year. Although things in the world may be so depressed and although we live in this world so filled with woe we celebrate Christmas with shouts of cheers and songs of joy.
14. Make no mistake. We are not singing out so happily by temporarily turning a blind eye onto the ruins or by just shutting our eyes to our miserable lot. We don't give cheers to make a crowd drunken by suspending our normal thoughts and placing ourselves on some other level in this world. If that's all that the Christmas celebration is, the only thing left after a noisy night come morning is all the garbage messing up the streets.
15. The call to "shout for joy, sing out together" was given to the ruins of Jerusalem. God's son was born in a world that had been desolated by sin. Therefore, we come face to face with the world and our ownselves. We come face to face with the way it really is. But, even though it is the way it is and we see it as so, we still rejoice. We can do that. We can do that because a decisive thing has already happened that has already altered our own destinies. The Lord has comforted us. The Lord has redeemed us. "Shout for joy, sing out together, o ruins of Jerusalem!"