SCRIPTURE READING Isaiah 49:1-7
Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.”
And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
COMMUNION MESSAGE “A Light to the Nations” Rev. James Renfrew
The reading for this morning comes to us the Book of Isaiah. Before I begin, I want to test the waters. What do we know about Isaiah? Anyone? Don’t be afraid to say something, don’t worry about getting something wrong, because we all have something to learn here.
- Lived a long time before Jesus, about 750 years before Jesus, Old Testament.
- Was a prophet, and as a young man reluctantly agreed to serve as God’s messenger
- He lived in a time of grave crisis, when the powerful Assyrian Empire was gobbling up other countries and was aimed right at Israel. Isaiah said that the best defense against enemies is to return to God from godlessness.
- He took the radical position that God’s covenant with Israel was not unconditional, that the purpose of the covenant was to bring out the best in Israel, not serve as a crutch to excuse their bad behavior.
- He had little interest in temple rituals, and sympathized with the weak and the poor.
Isaiah was a prophet long before the birth of Jesus. Towards the end of the long book of Isaiah we find four Servant Songs, so called because of how they begin. You can see it near the beginning of today’s text, “you are my servant”. It may be that the people who listened to Isaiah in his day thought that the servant was Israel, its people, its hopes, its disasters, its dreams, its ideal.
But Christians who lived 750 years after Isaiah drew another conclusion, that the Servant Isaiah described is none other than Jesus, the Messiah who had arrived in Bethlehem on Christmas morning.
Isaiah’s prophecy envisioned a kind of Messiah very different from popular imagination, not a mighty general who would take up arms, lead powerful armies and crush all of the enemies of God, but a servant, not one with power over people, but power with people, who serves out of weakness and vulnerability. And we see this in the way that Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels, not as a ruler, but as a teacher, not as an accumulator of power but as a servant. Jesus washed our feet, he didn’t demand we wash his. And, in the end, he gave us his life for people like you and me.
Many who have studied Isaiah find ample evidence that as many as three different sources of prophetic material from three different time periods are included in the book. It begins with Isaiah, but concludes with those who added to his story.
The material in chapters 40 through 55 address situations one hundred and fifty years later than the earliest chapters during the time when Israel had been conquered and its leaders carried off to exile in far-away Persia. And the final chapters, beginning in chapter 56, were most likely written even later than that after people returned home from exile and began to rebuild their lives.
Today’s text, from chapter 49, addresses the people of Israel after they had lost everything, their country, their homes, their leaders, even their temple, and some even thought they had lost their God. Yet in this dark time Isaiah is already imagining Israel regathered, with a renewed commitment to God, not just for themselves but as a light to other nations.
On Thursday night Session met, and as we reviewed the different aspects of our ministry, we found ourselves talking about mission.
What can we do, whom shall we help? It was exciting to see elders thinking of ways to help the people of Puerto Rico who suffered a devastating hurricane a few years ago, and now a powerful earthquake. We could say, “sorry, Puerto Rico, that’s your problem”, but we didn’t. We started talking about supplies that we could gather here in Byron to help people recover from a hurricane and earthquake.
I love it when the message of Scripture, in this case our reading from Isaiah, resonates with the opportunities before us. Verse 5: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
This is what the Season of Epiphany is all about, extending the light of Christ by sharing it with those who need it most. Finally, yesterday, the 24th day of Christmas, because of our travels to North Carolina, Robin and I finally put away the last of our Christmas decorations, the ornaments and the lights, but the light of Christ we do not put away! Let it shine let it shine, let it shine.