United Methodist Lectionary
Yesterday I found out that the United Methodist Church has a Lectionary all its own. That makes things a little easier. The United Methodist Lectionary does not have as many choices as the Revised Common Lectionary, instead the UMC lectionary has four texts, slightly different from the Revised Common Lectionary. It also includes other information to help with Sunday planning! Very helpful!
Isaiah, the Old Testament book that Christians love to quote. It talks of Christ our King throughout the book. We get amazing quotes like “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Today, Christians quote this book so often that it becomes very hard to read the text without the Christian lens. When I hear people talking of Leviticus I often hear about the New Covenant, how the law does not apply to us because Christ has fulfilled the law but I can’t recall anyone ignoring Isaiah because of Christ, instead people quote it for the same reason the ignore Leviticus, Christ. I can’t be “not Christian,” I can’t read this text as an 8th century Judahite. But I can try to understand some of the history, even if I can’t live it.
If we were to pick up a history book and begin reading about the United States of America, Great Britain, President James Madison, France, Canada, Native American’s and maritime rights, then turned the page and began reading about Japan, Germany, Pearl Harbor, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, we would do a double take and murmur a silent “huh?”. We just jumped a few years from the War of 1812 to the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor and we would know it.
We may not notice it but the same happens in Isaiah. The first 39 chapters in the book of Isaiah take place during a time when Assyria’s power is increasing, the second half of the eighth century BCE through the beginning of the seventh century BCE. Assyria is threatening the Northern Kingdom of Israel and eventually the Southern Kingdom of Judah. These 39 chapters, minus a couple of later additions like Isaiah 24-27, (apocalyptic literature probably written no earlier than the sixth century BCE) are known as 1 Isaiah (Coogan, page 332).
Starting with Isaiah 40, we begin to hear a voice from a different time, the Northern Kingdom of Israel is no more and Babylon is threatening the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the capital city, Jerusalem. The Assyria of Isaiah 19:24 is a memory, the Babylonians conquered it in 608 BCE (Coogan, page 349). Starting with Isaiah 40, we have a new voice from a different time, with different kings and even different nations.
As I read Isaiah 9:2-7 this week, I will listen to the promise of child from the lens of a twenty-first century Christian, I will read about the promise of light coming into the darkness of our world. As I read, I will try to remember that Isaiah was living in a darkness, a time and place, very different from the darkness I know. A time when the powerful nation of Assyria could take a land and its people, a time when kings ruled, war was constant, and God spoke to a Prophet telling of a people who yearn for “endless peace for the throne of David and His Kingdom” (Isaiah 9:7).