The prophet Isaiah exercised his ministry in the 8th century BC; however, many scholars believe that the present form of the book of Isaiah reflects the compilation of various sources over several centuries. Therefore, many scholars divide the book of Isaiah into three sections:
First Isaiah: Chapters 1-39
Second Isaiah: Chapters 40-55
Third Isaiah: Chapters 56-66
Our readings this morning are taken from three chapters of Isaiah (9, 53, and 61), which reflect the three distinct sections of the book. These sections are also reflected in our liturgical life in the office of Morning Prayer:
The First Song of Isaiah - 12:2-6 (BCP, Page 86)
The Second Song of Isaiah - 55:6-11 (BCP, Page 86-87)
The Third Song of Isaiah - 60:1-19 (BCP, Page 87-88)
Once again, we see that these three "songs" from Isaiah found in our liturgy represent the three distinct sections recognized by most biblical scholars. However, even if the book of Isaiah reflects a compilation of various sources, the book remains theologically and thematically coherent.
The central theme of today's reading is the coming of the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Isaiah describes this messianic figure as the descendant of David, the One who would establish God's reign over all the earth. However, the most striking descriptions of the Messiah come from chapter 53 of Isaiah, which describes the "suffering servant of the Lord." As early Christians attempted to understand the ramifications of a crucified Messiah, the words of the prophet Isaiah were a primary source of inspiration. We find passages from Isaiah 53 frequently quoted in the New Testament as commentary on the crucifixion of Jesus (Acts 8, 1 Peter 2). The text of Isaiah 53 is also commonly read during Holy Week, because it so aptly describes the redemptive nature of Christ's suffering (i.e. He was wounded for our trangressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.)
Finally, Isaiah 61 describes the Messiah as the One who will come into the world preaching "good news." He will bring about freedom and peace among those who have experienced oppression and degradation. As we will see later this week, in Luke's gospel, Jesus will begin his public ministry by reading Isaiah 61 and declaring "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing!"