On that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord of hosts. One of these will be called the City of the Sun.
On that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the center of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; when they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior, and will defend and deliver them. The Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians; and the Egyptians will know the Lord on that day, and will worship with sacrifice and burnt offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. The Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing; they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their supplications and heal them.
On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.”
Blessing for all people
My favorite Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” like today’s reading from Isaiah, speaks of God’s deliverance from a place of pain. In the words of an earlier version of the hymn, Israel’s exilic plea is for God to act in history—yet again—to “close the path to misery.”
Throughout the Old Testament, the exodus story functions as a reminder that God sees and hears the cries of his people. The biblical logic is that if God heard and responded to these laments in the past, God can also act in the future in the most comprehensive way imaginable. Isaiah not only envisions God making a way forward, but it also dreams of an altar to God being built in Egypt—in the place where the people of God had once been oppressed under Pharaoh’s cruelty. Israel’s creative remembering in this way allows for the reader to imagine what it would be like for there to be a place firmly established in their future circumstances where God would be rightly acknowledged.
Remarkably, in this imaginative remembrance and forward projection, God’s acting in the past is not premised on inflicting retribution. The prayer for God to act is one thoroughly convinced that God’s action should be known as a blessing for all people—for Egypt, for Assyria (i.e., even for our enemies). It looks forward to a day when the people of God can be “a blessing at the center of the world.”
In this season of Advent, let us sing, pray, and look forward to God’s hope and healing being experienced in the world. And let us also labor and live in such a way that God’s blessings are made known whatever our circumstances.