The Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, Holy Trinity Church, Nashville

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent” (Is. 62:1).

It says in the Nicene Creed that we recite each Sunday that the Holy Spirit has “spoken through the prophets.” Speech is often the gift that the Holy Spirit gives; in fact, it seems to be its signature tune. Just look at the gifts of the Spirit listed by St. Paul in our second reading today and you’ll see how many of them have to do with words and speech. There’s the utterance of knowledge and utterance of wisdom; various kinds of tongues and the interpretation of those tongues. St. Paul of course specifically mentions prophecy as a gift of the Spirit: a particular kind of speech that articulates what God is doing now and will do in the future for his People.

Fortunately we have a prophet lying close at hand in our first reading today, to give us some idea of what prophetic speech is all about. We read from the prophet Isaiah, and our reading begins with the Prophet telling us that he cannot keep silent. Speech is required, in other words: the distinctive speech of the prophet. He’s been called, given a task, a message to announce: God is at work and the day of redemption draws near.

The People needed to be redeemed because they had been driven from the Promised Land and delivered into exile. In the time before the defeat of the nation the People had believed that they were safe in the land given to them by God. They believed that because God had made covenant with the Patriarchs and with the family of David the King that they would triumph over their enemies

But when push came to shove it turned out that God did not save them. It seemed to them that God did not answer their prayers. When they prayed it seemed that they heard nothing but silence. Not a good silence, either; not the sound of sheer silence that follows the earthquake, the wind, and the fire on Mount Horeb when Elijah encounters God. Not the silence of rest that follows accomplishment. No, not that kind of silence but just the sound of emptiness and defeat, the silence of the graveyard.

It’s into this silence that the Prophet Isaiah speaks. The speech that sounds out here in our reading is the antidote to the silence of God. Ancient prophecy often chides God for his silence, for being mute in the face of disaster. God is arraigned like a criminal in court and charged with the failure to act. “After this, will you restrain yourself, O Lord? Will you keep silent, and punish us so severely?” (Is. 64:12). It says in Psalm 83, “O God, do not be silent; do not keep still nor hold your peace, O God” (Ps. 83:1).

The ancient prophets spoke into the silence of God. In fact, God was not silent, but through the prophets the Holy Spirit spoke, announcing a new day and a renewal of the word of the Lord. The answer to God’s silence is the voice of the prophets. “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch” (Is. 62:1). God is speaking through the prophets, if the People have ears to hear it. New knowledge and new wisdom is being articulated by the Holy Spirit. God is bringing the People back from exile.

If the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets, then what is the word to us? We too often hear silence when we long for a word from the Lord. Someone told me once that if God would only speak then it would be possible to believe. I understand what that’s about, but in fact, he has spoken through the prophets.

This is why the Church proclaims the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s a prophetic word because it proclaims what God is doing now and will do in the future for his People. As it says in Isaiah, The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Is. 61:1-2).

God calls us to proclaim this Good News, but also to hear it ourselves. If we have ears to hear, we can hear the Good News of new life and resurrection. It’s the mending of our broken hearts, and the casting off of the chains that bind us. God is not silent as long as we hear the word and proclaim it ourselves. God has done a new thing in Jesus Christ. “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent” (Is. 62:1).

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee