God Shows Up
Isaiah 52: 7-10 (NRSVUE)
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices; together they shout for joy, for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth; shout together for joy, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
Isaiah is speaking to a people whose homes have been destroyed, whose land has been taken, and whose temples lay in ruins. The prophet is speaking to displaced people living in a strange land, with strange customs, and a strange god. Babylon is not their home.
The psalmist writes of this exile in Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”
In the aftermath of defeat and in the midst of physical exile, the prophet Isaiah speaks a word to remind the exiles that God is still near. He delivers a message of life, hope, and joy to those trapped in despair: Despite evidence to the contrary, God has not forgotten you and God will show up!
This is the summation of the gospel: God shows up. This is the essence of faith that bears witness to the immutable nature of the God of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, of Ishmael, Isaac, and Rachel. This is the God who sees us in every time and space. This is the God of both the present and the not yet. This is the God who always shows up.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news. Such poetic words may seem metaphorical to some. Yet against the realities of exile, Isaiah’s words disrupt the temptation to accept the finality of exilic circumstances. The prophet shows up as messenger to those for whom God has shown up time and time again, and he reminds them that God still reigns and God still shows up even for those living in the midst of realities that run counter to this claim.
Mountainous areas have changing terrains. There are rocky edges, slippery slopes, and peaks at higher elevations than the surrounding area. From the mountain one can see farther than those on the ground. The Hebrew word na’ah, translated as beautiful in this text, may also be understood as “to be at home.” In others words: How at home upon the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news!
Some might suggest the prophet is foretelling the coming reign of Jesus. This certainly works for many Christians reading Isaiah today. But I offer for your consideration the long lineage of messengers beginning with Adam, from which Jesus descends, and who continue to this present day. In every generation, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, people need to be reminded of what is always true: God shows up.
Over 2,000 years ago on a cold night in Bethlehem, Jesus was born into a poor family living underneath the shadow of militarized oppression. Not unlike today, 10% of the people controlled 90% of the resource and the government favored the rich while taxing the vulnerable. Against a backdrop of homelessness, poverty, and the domination of Empire, Jesus comes as both message and messenger of the good news: God has not forgotten us. God incarnate shows up, unplanned and unexpected, to a poor teen girl from the wrong side of the tracks so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10 NRSV)
The prophet Isaiah knew nothing of the coming of the Christ child. The beauty, peace, joy, and salvation of which Isaiah speaks is not clothed in the majestic pageantry of our Christmas morns. To every generation prophets come to bring this good news because embodiment is faith’s only evidence and its only defense.
This Christmas season our world is in turmoil. The birthplace of Jesus is under siege. There are wars and rumors of war in the Sudan, Ukraine, and the Middle East. Carnage is all around and the most vulnerable among us suffer most. Families are forced to leave their homelands in search of refuge across guarded boarders that declare there’s no room. The earth groans from our abuse and people still die of hunger in a world of more than enough.
And yet, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, prophets still rise among us to declare what is always true. God has not forgotten us and God will show up.
And how welcome upon these mountains are the feet of those who declare peace, who bring good news, who announce salvation, who remind us of what life has taught us time and time again. God shows up in the midst of our trials and our triumphs. God shows up in our joys and our pain. God shows up in the mundane and the miraculous of our lives.
Today let us shout for joy and sing praise to our God who sees farther than we can see and knows infinitely more than we can know for God is with us for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulders. He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.(Isaiah 9:6 NRSV)
- On this Christmas Day, where is God showing up in your life?
- In what way are you prophesying? What are you saying?
Rev. Traci Blackmon is the Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for the United Church of Christ.
An ordained minister, public theologian, and nursing professional, Rev. Traci Blackmon’s life work focuses on communal resistance to systemic injustice.
She is a featured voice on regional, national, and international platforms, and her pastoral response in Ferguson to the killing of Michael Brown, Jr. resulted in international recognition, gaining her audiences spanning the breadth of the White House to the Carter Center to the Vatican. Rev. Blackmon is a pastor at heart and a frequent speaker for local congregations, religious institutions, and public platforms engaging religion and politics. She currently serves as Pastor in Residence for Eden Theological Seminary. Featured in several publications and documentaries with PBS and National Geographic, Rev. Blackmon’s ability to reach diverse audiences with messages of hope and challenge to address moral and theological issues in both the church and society resulted in her being named one of St. Louis’ 100 most influential voices. As a result, Rev. Blackmon was appointed to the Ferguson Commission by Governor Jay Nixon and to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships for the White House by President Barack Obama. She is also a recipient of the NAACP Rosa Parks Award; The Ur-ban League of St. Louis Woman in Leadership Award; and the National Planned Parenthood Faith Leader Award, to name a few. Rev. Blackmon has been named one of Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 and is a featured writer in several religious publications. She is a graduate of Leadership St. Louis and currently serves as an Auburn Senior Fellow, a member of the Antoinette Brown Society, and a member of the 2023 Racial Justice & Religion Collective for the Aspen Institute.Rev. Blackmon serves on the editorial board of the St. Louis American, the single largest weekly newspaper in Missouri, and as a trustee on the boards of The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Americans United for Separation of Church & State, and the World Parliament of Religions.