Friday, December 29, 2006

1 Christmas, Year C, continued: Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3

For the preceding post on this Sunday's reading, Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3, click here.

Let's look more closely at the theology of BEAUTY in the passage, and especially on the rather curious and profound effect Zion's new beauty appears to have on all the peoples of the world. This topic simply fascinates.


Beauty is certainly one of the wonders and attractions of weddings. All the guests are eager for the appearance of the bride, who will be decked in all her beauty. Here, God's servant people, the redeemed Zion, appears as a bride decked with jewels (61:10), a shining brightness (62:1), and God's beauteous glory (62:2). God's people become God's "crown of beauty [תפארת]," held tight in God's hand (62:3). God has granted God's people this beauty as pure gift.

When one holds a wedding, one normally invites guests. As I mentioned in the last post, Zion's God-gifted beauty is not for Zion's sake alone. Her new-found blessing "springs up before all the nations" (61:11). Nations and kings see her glory (62:2). God makes Jerusalem renowned throughout earth (62:7). Earth's peoples see the signal and throng to Zion's magnetic attraction (62:10; cf. Isaiah 11:10; 49:22-23; 55:4-5).
To earth's many peoples, beauty makes all the difference. I have found Elaine Scarry's book, On Beauty and Being Just, very helpful on this point. Her insights into the overpowering and transformative nature of beauty really illuminate Isaiah's theology. Beauty changes people, inspires them to foolish and slavish adoration, leads them to acts that add more beauty to the world.
Because of Zion's radical new beauty, earth's peoples fall over themselves to repair past injuries (62:8), to get intimate with Zion (49:23). Confronted by blazing beauty, the peoples are overpowered, fully vulnerable, yet increasingly exhilarated. Righteousness springs up before the nations (61:11) in a way that begins to make them righteous.
Scarry writes, "Surely what we should wish is a world where the vulnerability of the beholder is equal to or greater than the vulnerability of the person beheld, a world where the pleasure-filled tumult of staring is a prelude to acts that will add to the beauty already in the world---acts like making a poem...or acts like repairing an injury or a social injustice" (pp. 74-75).

2 Comments:

Blogger Cecilia Macaulay said...

Thank-you for introducing me to Elaine Scarry and her work on Beauty. I had a feeling there was something rather wonderful in this christmas eve reading.

Sun Dec 25, 02:45:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

You're Welcome! 😊

Wed Jan 04, 08:30:00 AM GMT-5  

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