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Isaiah 12:1-6

This might seem like as surprise choice for the psalm this week. However, the choice is not that strange. This short chapter is a song of thanksgiving. It could even be a combination of two earlier songs, vv. 1-3 and 4-6. Each of these sections begins with ‘You will say in that day’ (vv. 1a and 4a). The phrase ‘in that day’ speaking of some time to come, is frequent in Isaiah (e.g. Isa 3:18; 10:20; 11:10, 11 etc.). The two sections also both finish with a note of joy (vv. 3 and 6).

The chapter is appropriate as an accompaniment to Zephaniah 3:14-20. Isaiah 12 speaks of both God’s anger in judgment on his own people as well as of God’s comfort for them (v. 1). It speaks also of great joy at God’s deliverance of the people as noted above. For these reasons alone it is a suitable psalm to sing alongside the first reading.

At the heart of the passage is v. 2 with its declaration of the psalmist’s trust in the Lord God. The verse opens and closes with references to God as ‘my salvation’. Within that confidence the psalmist proclaims that they will trust and not be afraid. The balance to that is that the Lord is the psalmist’s ‘strength’ and ‘might’. All that the psalmist can do is trust, but even that is embraced by the Lord God’s salvation and strength. This is both the comfort given to the psalmist and the paradox they face. The one who is angry with them is also the only real hope and strength the psalmist has. The only response to be made, in addition to the trust, or as an expression of it, is to shout aloud and sing for joy.

The trust that the writer speaks about here is not some disembodied entity. This chapter is also the thanksgiving at the end of the section Isaiah 5-12. At the heart of these chapters is a difficult political decision to be made by king Ahaz. In political terms he needed to decide whether he would form an alliance with other smaller states seeking to rebel against the superpower Assyria, or whether he should side with the latter against the rebels (see Isaiah 7-8). Isaiah, however, had reminded Ahaz of another option: ‘If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all’ (Isa 7:9b). The option of trust in God is not an empty pious response to the hard issues in the world. Rather it is our only hope and only real joy according to the book of Isaiah. In a world where faith is often questioned or considered ineffectual in the face of injustice, violence, or self-satisfaction, Advent calls us to reevaluate where our trust lies.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

Verses 5-6 make an excellent call to worship. Alternatively the whole psalm could be used as a prayer of adoration and thanksgiving.

You will say in that day:
I will give thanks to you, O LORD,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
and you comforted me.

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.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day:
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.

 Old Testament reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20

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