What are your favorite songs to hear or sing during the Advent or Christmas season? No doubt many of us love the sound of “Silent Night,” especially the custom of singing it by candlelight on Christmas Eve. Or, maybe you prefer the exuberant confidence of “Joy to the World” which we always belt out on Christmas Day.
Whatever your favorite song happens to be, I can almost guarantee you that it’s nothing like this taunt song that we hear in Isaiah this morning. Of course, we all know what it means to taunt someone. To demoralize another with words that are meant to cut them down to size—to mock them as they cower in the corner—too weak and powerless to respond. And we all understand that taunting is wrong. We shouldn’t do it. In fact, we understand that taunting is so wrong that we even penalize football players from taunting an opponent. Even on a violent athletic battlefield, taunting just seems to be crossing the line.
So why is this taunt song against the King of Babylon in the Bible? And furthermore, why is Isaiah promising Israel that one day God himself will teach them to sing this song? This song in which all of creation rejoices at the downfall of this once mighty king. In which thanks is given for the fact that his dead body is consumed with maggots and lies unburied. It just doesn’t seem very nice. It certainly doesn’t seem appropriate for Advent or Christmas.
Well, I’m not suggesting that we add this song to our holiday rotation, but I think that we do need to consider this song seriously. Because, in a way, this song is both about us and for us. This song is about us because this song is about the ultimate fate that awaits human pride and arrogance. The King of Babylon is not named, but there’s no mistaking the fact that he’s a personification of the sin that all of us share and engage in on a daily basis. It’s the same sin that started all this mess in the first place. The sin of thinking that we know better than God. The sin of rejecting God’s authority over us. The sin of saying “I will make myself like the Most High.”
But as the song proclaims, God will not stand for this in the end. He will throw down everyone who exalts himself. He will lay waste to the pride that pervades every human accomplishment. He will sweep away the arrogant with his broom of destruction. And if we cling to our pride and continue to defy God with our arrogance that’s exactly what will happen to us. And on that day there will be no penalty flag for taunting. There will only be weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who have rejected God’s authority over them.
And yet this song is also for us. Because ultimately, this is a song of hope. Not the kind of vacuous, sentimental hope that drowns the airwaves and fills the stores this time of year. But real hope. Real hope that there is a Judge who will come to set the world right. To rule and reign in righteousness. To give justice to those who have been oppressed by the evildoers of this world. To shine the light of truth into the darkness of confusion. To bring order to the chaos. To give life to those who have received only death. And that’s the kind of hope that Christ brings. That’s why he came the first time. To judge sin, and death, and the power of the devil. To disarm the rulers of wickedness through his cross. To lay waste to death through his resurrection. And to announce to us the inauguration of his everlasting kingdom through his ascension.
And he’s coming again. Coming again so that he can teach us to sing this song. Because this song may have once been about us, but now this song is for us. Because he’s delivered us from the dark dominion of the King of Babylon and placed us into his righteous Kingdom of light. And so Christ is coming again to teach us this song that laughs in the face of death, mocks the foolish pride of the devil, and rejoices in the downfall of every false god of this age. Only Christ can transform taunting from something ugly into something beautiful. And one day, he will.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.