Text: For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:1-5)
Think of downtown Unionville for a moment. Now imagine it 100 times worse. Imagine it as an urban wasteland. Sidewalks are strewn with broken glass, and weeds grow out of the cracks. Litter blows down empty streets. Boarded-up windows covered with graffiti. The old, majestic brick buildings are condemned one by one, torn down, and turned into gravel parking lots, which are usually empty. At night, the downtown is mostly dark; few lights are in working order. This downtown is deserted, desolate, and dangerous.
Now imagine this same downtown, except that people are returning! It is experiencing a dramatic revitalization. Investors are pumping millions of dollars into old buildings, turning deserted warehouses into luxury loft apartments. Old banks and hotels are being restored to their former glory. New businesses and restaurants are opening every week. New sidewalks are adorned with trees and flowers. Instead of litter blowing down empty streets, there are people milling about, daytime and nighttime. One by one entire city blocks are coming back to life. No longer deserted, downtown teams with life. No longer an eyesore, downtown is now the crown jewel of the metropolitan area, of the entire state. It has been restored from desolation to delight.
Can you picture it? Good. Now we’re ready to understand today’s text. The people of Judah and Jerusalem are taken into exile, leaving their land and city deserted and desolate. Isaiah prophesies, “The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks” (Is 32:14). See also Is 24:6–12. It’s no longer the land “flowing with milk and honey.” And the people Isaiah is speaking to feel just as desolate. They must have felt as cut off from the Promise as they were from the Promised Land itself.
But Isaiah has been sent with a word of hope to the people of God in exile. Their captivity will not last forever. Their homeland will not remain desolate; their beautiful city, Jerusalem, will not remain deserted. They will no longer be enslaved. God will deliver them from captivity and bring them home. The temple will be rebuilt, and the nations will come to it. Instead of a wasteland, their city will be the delight of the nations (see Is 60:10–16; 65:18–19; Jer 51:5).
God will rejoice over them like a bridegroom rejoices over his bride (see Is 61:9b; 62:12). He will provide for them. He will forgive them, be a companion to them, take care of them, and listen to them (see Is 62:8–9; Mal 3:10b–12). He will protect them (see Is 62:6).
In fact, in trying to describe this restored promise, the best comparison He can make is to marriage—except better. Marriage to a perfect spouse, whose love could never be earned. In fact, more than that, as He sent them into exile the best comparison He could make was to an unfaithful spouse. God’s people had earlier taken on the behavior and appearance of a prostitute. They were unfaithful to him. They sold themselves off to the gods of the nations. They entrusted themselves to the care of other nations (see Is 31:1–3; 1:2–4; Ezek 9:9–10; 15:8).
Still, He promises to love them. His love for them is a “profound mystery.” He loves them not because they were so lovable, but because he loves them. They are beautiful in his sight. He has made them beautiful. He rejoices over them (see Is 49:7–18). “You shall no more be termed Forsaken,” Isaiah writes, “and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. …[As] the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
One of the treats I get as a pastor is to have a front row seat, so to speak, at weddings. To see the joy on the groom’s face as his bride appears in that doorway. The overflow of emotion as these couples exchange rings and vows (yes, even the disgustingly perfect ones!). That is how God is choosing to describe His relationship with His people. These people who are completely destitute and alone, completely cut off, who feel forgotten—and who realized perfectly well that they deserved it for their unfaithfulness, are hearing that their groom is coming to them with that same look on His face. That is how God, through the prophet Isaiah, chooses to describe the hope that he has for them.
Here’s the good news: The prophet Isaiah is also proclaiming a word of hope to the people of God today. This passage was meant as much for us as for the people in Babylon. It was meant as much for our comfort as for theirs.
Now, hold on. I know, to paraphrase someone from scripture, “We’re Americans. We’ve never been slaves to anyone.” Except Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34). Think about that sin that, even after how ever many years of walking with God, you still can’t move past. That sin that still defeats you again and again. Tell me that you’re not a slave to sin. The good news is that your captivity to sin will not last forever. And it certainly does not leave you cut off from the Promises or from the Promised Land.
It’s not that you don’t deserve it. It’s not that you don’t deserve to be cut off, forsaken by God. But, at the right time, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law” (Gal 4:4). This is the One whom the Lord exiled to the cross. This is the One that the Father forsakes instead of his people (see Mt 27:46). He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” so that you never have to. And, when the time is just right, the Lord will come again, in glory, to bring his people home.
In the meantime, God already rejoices over you like a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. In fact, you are the bride of Christ, whom Christ gave himself up for, that he might sanctify you, having cleansed you by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present you to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that you might be holy and without blemish.
Through Baptism he rescues us from the desolation of sin and death and makes us his delight. Through Baptism love covers up a multitude of sins. As a result, the Lord looks at his church and loves her. She is beautiful in his sight.
And, no, His love still cannot be earned. Yes, you and I deserved the punishment He took on the cross in your place. We have been unfaithful to him. We have chased after and given ourselves over to other gods. As a church, we have not lived up to the standard of being his bride. There are some dark chapters in the history of the church at large, of each congregation, yet he still thinks of us as “my people,” and “my church.” (See Is 1:3; Mt 16:18.) There is great grace in that little word my.
His love for you is a profound mystery. It is not a flippant love. His is a steadfast, everlasting love. Even “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim 2:13). He takes delight in you. He holds you up as a crown of splendor to the nations. He displays you as his masterpiece, so that others will be drawn to his righteousness. These are His promises to you.
Now, I don’t know if downtown Unionville will ever be brought back to life like we would hope. But there is no question about what He has promised you. Praise and thank the Lord, people of God. He has turned our wailing into dancing. He has driven out the evil within us and taken up residence. He has replaced our guilt with joy. He has changed our despair into the assurance of his love. He has rescued us from loneliness and loves us with an everlasting love. He has turned us from our own desolation to be his delight!