We invite you to return every day during Advent for this devotional series
Listen to today’s accompanying audio track:
O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion
Isaiah 40:9; 60:1
“O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into
the high mountain. O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the
cities of Judah, behold your God! …Arise, shine, for thy light is come,
and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”
Can you think of any words more wonderful, any words you would more want to hear than: “I have good news for you”? It’s what you want to hear your doctor say. What you’d like to hear your tax accountant say. But how much more would you like to hear God say: “I have good news for you”?
Yet most people seem not to expect good news from God. That’s why we’re cautioned not to talk religion. People don’t mind us being religious; just don’t bug them with it. Nor do people expect good news from a sermon, else why would we be sleeping through so many. No one sleeps through good news, nor keeps silent about it.
But it is precisely good news God has for us! The “good tidings” or good news is this: God has come to us! “Behold your God!” He is Messiah, promised, foretold, long-awaited. The Child born of the virgin is “Emmanuel”, “God with us”. Jesus of Nazareth is God in human flesh.
The many Old Testament prophecies about Messiah are not about Him being a great moral teacher. Rather, the prophecies tell us to look for Messiah as the eternal God, the Creator of heaven and earth come down to us.
The prophet Isaiah peers through the many centuries all the way to Messiah’s first and second comings. In one sweeping, panoramic view he sees both comings as one:
Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:9-11).
Isaiah tells the world to look for Messiah to come in power and might, but also like a gentle shepherd. He is the sovereign Lord of all who tenderly cares for His own. His arm that is strong to rule the nations holds and protects. He is a personal God who knows each of us intimately: “Behold your God!”.
If we truly hear and understand this good news, we could not keep silent. It is news so good, so wonderful, that we are compelled to race to the highest mountain and cry out. “Lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God!” It is a message that the church cannot keep to itself and still be the church.
The goodness of the news about Messiah prompts Jennens and Handel to include yet another text from Isaiah: “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee” (Isaiah 60:1).
The prophet looks again into the future and tells of God’s glorious new day. Like a trumpeter, Isaiah rouses sleepers to rise and to shine with the very light of God. Like a waking Jerusalem glistens with the light of the morning sun, so we will shine with a light not our own. God’s people are to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; Acts 13:47) so that all people will come to Messiah and live in the light of His new day.
Alfred Delp was a Catholic priest executed for his longstanding opposition to Hitler and the Nazi regime. Shortly before he was hanged in 1945, Delp wrote about God’s light shining on him even in his prison cell:
I see Advent this year with greater intensity and anticipation than ever before. Walking up and down in my cell, three paces this way and three paces that way, with my hands in irons and ahead of me an uncertain fate, I have a new and different understanding of God’s promise and redemption and release…But just beyond the horizon the eternal realities stand silent in their age-old longing. There shines on us the first mild light of the radiant fulfillment to come.
The alto solo is responding to good news about Messiah. Yesterday’s prophecy of Emmanuel’s birth now becomes the occasion for joyous celebration. The music is a dancing melody calling for all to join. It is a bold call for all to herald the good news… “Be not afraid…”.
Handel uses the music to paint each step, climbing, climbing, higher and higher: “up into the high mountain”. The music line rises higher with each word of command to proclaim the good news: “Lift up…thy voice…with strength; lift it up…be not afraid”. Then, at the highest note atop the high mountain, the solo calls for us to cry to the world: “behold your God!” The accompanying strings descend suddenly, echoing the good news going down from the high mountain to the cities below.
Finally, the solo voice swells to the voices of many people in joyous chorus: “Arise, shine!” Cry out to all the world: “Behold your God!”
- What do you sense that God might be saying to you in today’s Scripture text and music from Messiah?
- What do you want to say to God?
- Now take a few moments to be still in God’s presence.