SCRIPTURE READING Isaiah 42:1-9 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth and the coastlands wait for his teaching. Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.”
MESSAGE “Here He Comes!” Rev. James Renfrew, Teaching Elder
When I was a seminary student in New York City I took the subway nearly every day from 116th Street on the Upper West Side. I had a student minister position on West 57th Street, so I frequently took the #1 Broadway local down to Columbus Circle. I walked four blocks from my dormitory on 120th street and then took the stairs down into the 116th Street subway station. Taking the subway always involves waiting for the next train to arrive. In Washington DC the Metro has a information sign that counts down the minutes until the next train, but In New York you just wait with no idea about when the next train will arrive … five minutes, but sometimes only once per hour late at night. And in the winter it’s very cold standing on the platform waiting. There’s no heat. At the 116th Street station you could see all the way down the track a little circle of daylight, the point where the train went from elevated tracks in to the underground. Those with 20/20 vision watching that little circle of daylight could see a little mini-eclipse when the train entered the tunnel. And a murmur would drift through the station, “Here it comes!”, and you could begin to see people inching forward on the platform ready to board the train when it arrived. Hearing the words “here it comes” was welcome news on a cold winter morning.
So this morning our church feels a little like that cold subway station, except that it’s warm here, except that it’s not a train we’re waiting for. We’re waiting for Jesus to arrive. We’ve heard that he’s been born in a distant land, a long, long time ago, but now we’re waiting for him to arrive. So we’re watching that little circle of light way down the tunnel, waiting for the signs that he’s getting close. I can’t wait!
Our Scripture reading this morning is from a time long before subway trains, from about 550 BC. Until Jesus appeared many people had imagined the coming Messiah as a mighty warrior with a deadly weapon in each hand who would annihilate the enemies of God, obliterate the structures of sin, and usher in a time of eternal peace. But Isaiah was not waiting for a vengeful Messiah. God revealed to Isaiah a very different kind of Messiah, and we’re reading about him in today’s reading.
This reading is one of the four “Servant Songs” found in Isaiah. The earliest Christians found in these Old Testament Servant Songs prophecies that were fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” When those early Christians studied these words of Isaiah they were quickly convinced that Isaiah must have been talking about Jesus.
So, now, here he comes! And if we were standing on the subway platform, we’d be inching forward to get a good seat. The long-awaited Messiah!
Jesus is born into the world in Bethlehem, but in an unexpected way; he was born in a barn, his parents refugees, hardly the kind of royal Messiah that had been expected, and as he grows up we see that he is nothing like that mighty warrior, not at all. He carries not a single weapon. In his hands there is something else, something nearly opposite of what had been expected. Isaiah sees him coming, not as what people thought he would be, but as what he is.
Here he comes! Jesus’ approach is the exact opposite of the mighty warrior. He had no weapons, but he was not without power. His power was a different kind of power, not based on weapons but on something new and unexpected. Jesus demonstrates love instead of physical strength, giving instead of taking, and hope instead of fear. Many might conclude that Jesus’ approach is weak and ineffective, but these are the exact things that Jesus has in his hands. Not weapons, not brutality, not injustice, not torture, not boasting. As his followers, we are invited to live the same way.
Understanding that approach and living into it as his followers is the reason we gather at our church each Sunday, to keep recommitting ourselves to Jesus in spite of the many temptations to live otherwise. One visit here is never enough, because we frequently stray and get lost or stuck. It’s not easy to understand and live what Jesus offers in his hands, and we are continually drawn to the mighty warriors of our day and the things they hold in their hands. But in the end we know that what Jesus offers is the only approach that holds hope for humankind.
As I wrote in this month’s newsletter, the Bible readings for worship in January and February have two themes: the invitation to discipleship, and guidance for disciples who have joined. All of these stories have an element of unexpected surprise. What we thought about ourselves and the world around us often gets turned on its head as we keep returning to Jesus’ words.
We begin with Isaiah this morning. And what surprises me each time that I read it is the gentle touch of the Messiah. A touch so loving and gentle that even a bruised reed will not be bent, and a dimly burning wick will not lose its spark. He doesn’t push people aside, he doesn’t ridicule the weak, he doesn’t sink to the level of his enemies. Isaiah’s most striking example of the one coming is that the Messiah will go into the darkest places, the jails and the prisons to find the ones who have been flushed away and forgotten. It is a remarkable description of the Messiah, not one who marches into war, but one who seeks out the lost and forgotten. Isaiah’s Servant Song becomes a way to measure who we are and what we do on behalf of Jesus.
Unfortunately we do not have a subway system in Byron, so there are no trains coming, there are no platforms to stand on, there is no tiny circle of light way down the tunnel that will tip us off. Yet Jesus is about to arrive. Here he comes!