Trying to enter into this week's sermon text (Isaiah 61:10-62:3) is like going back to visit the rapidly changing city where I grew up after having been gone for a while; everything looks familiar but it's surprisingly difficult to find my way around and make sense of it all. The words of this passage are ones used throughout scripture (salvation, righteousness, praise) but they are used in odd ways. The prophet speaks of being clothed in garments of salvation and a robe of righteousness. What exactly does that mean?
Of course, the language here is relatively poetic in nature and therefore, to some degree, refuses to be pinned down to any precise meaning. Instead, this prophetic poetry invites the listeners to expand their concepts of these important biblical words to include a variety of meanings that may not have been considered previously.
In this passage, Isaiah creatively invites his audience to envision salvation and righteousness as clothes that an engaged couple would wear on their wedding day. This is an interesting metaphor considering what follows because those wedding clothes are a symbol of the new reality that will soon exist for that couple. Similiarly, Isaiah says that he has been clothed with salvation and righteousness "For...the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations." The prophet's message, perhaps even his own calling and presence as God's messenger, is a precursor of the salvation that God is about to accomplish. As a result, the prophet can not keep silent until God has established his righteousness and Israel becomes a symbol of God's royalty.
In the context of this passage, this salvation and righteousness has to do with God's deliverance of Israel from exile. Although 62:1 says that it is "her righteousness" and "her salvation", referring to Jerusalem, the context indicates that this has little to do with anything that Israel possesses. Instead, it has everything to do with God's glory which will be revealed when Israel is delivered from captivity. The nations will see Israel's righteousness and glory (62:2) but ultimately this is all to God's glory. It is not Israel's moral qualities that are on display but rather God's ability to deliver.
We too, simultaneously proclaim God's deliverance in Jesus Christ while awaiting that final deliverance upon his return. What might it mean for the Chuch today to raise it's prophetic voice and put on the "garments of salvation"? How might we adorn ourselves in preparation for and proclamation of our day of deliverance? How might our life togheter become a royal diadem in the hand of our God? To answer those questions sincerely will probably mean that we have to think of salvation and righteousness in broader terms, as the prophet invites us to do in this passage.