Sunday 8th January

Light shining in Darkness – Isa. 42:1-9; Matt 3:13-17

Today is the first Sunday in Epiphany.  The word comes from a Greek word meaning “appearance” or “revelation.”  We associate it with the appearance of the star which the Magi followed to Bethlehem. The lectionary Reading In the New Testament for this Sunday is Matthew’s account of the Baptism of Jesus. This event occurred at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. We might well ask ‘Why?’ Why did Jesus, God’s son submit to a baptismal rite that signified repentance – the change of direction asked of those who responded to the call to follow the way of Jesus?

The 0T reading for this Sunday is Isaiah 42:1-9. This passage refers to those who live in darkness.

The Jewish nation had been defeated and destroyed by the mighty Babylonian Empire. Many of the people were forced to live as immigrants in Babylon. With the monarchy overthrown, the Temple reduced to ruins and the nation defeated; it seemed as if God had abandoned his people.

It was to this dark these homeless, abandoned people that the Prophet, known as Second Isaiah, spoke words of comfort and liberation. The Prophet referred to an unknown person whom God would appoint to bring light into the dark places of the world. ie. to “the Servant of the Lord” —who would liberate his people and establish justice.

There are several reference in (Second) Isaiah’s writings to this mysterious figure designated as “the Servant of God”.This “Servant” is never clearly identified, although he has been variously identified as the nation of Israel. a faithful remnant of the people. (Israel) an unknown prophet – even 2nd Isaiah himself and to Jesus – the Messiah. What we can say with confidence is that Isaiah’s Servant figure was exemplified by Jesus and is the model for God’s faithful people, the Church, as it is for every individual follower of Jesus.

Whoever Isaiah had in mind, he asserted that, through his Servant, God would act in a particular way. God’s ‘Spirit filled-Servant’ would emerge not to conquer, or dominate, lord it over or control people but to shine a bright light in the darkness of people’s lives and lead them to freedom and justice.

Living with ‘darkness’ or ‘being in the ‘dark’ is too often the reality of many people. There are so many dark places in the world caused not only by natural events like volcanos and earthquakes and freak weather conditions causing floods and fires as the earth gets warmer. There are other dark places in our world too where we don’t want to be, where we feel extremely uncomfortable, which bring fear, extreme discomfort and pain; places where people’s lives are disrupted by conflict, violence, discrimination, corrupt political systems and injustice.

It’s worth noting that our idea of justice is very different from the Bible’s.  In our world, “justice” is something that happens in courtrooms.  It’s about arbitrating disputes and determining guilt or innocence and handing out punishments for crimes committed.  But in the Bible, God’s justice means that the hungry are fed, prisoners are set free, the blind receive their sight,,those who are bowed down are lifted up, and immigrants and widows and orphans have someone to watch over them.  Simply put, God’s justice is the light that shines into all the dark places of the world making it possible for people to live with dignity. 

 It’s important to realise that God’s Servant will be a liberator who will bring justice to everyone.

Isaiah reminds this exiled people that God hasn’t abandoned his people who live in the darkness.  God is still among them restoring them to be a blessing for all people by establishing justice in the world.

So “God’s Servant” is to be “a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring captives out the prison
out of the dungeon where they lie in darkness
(Isa. 42:6-7)

Sadly our version of “justice” too often brings darkness in our world. Our “justice” certainly looks very different from God’s.   Our justice is a justice of vengeance and force and hostility.

But God’s justice takes place not through vengeance – but forgiveness; not through violence – but compassion; not through hostility – but mercy.  It is a justice that leads to peace and fulfilment and that rights the wrongs and creates the conditions in which all people can thrive;  and that is what the story of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew’s Gospel is about.  Jesus approaches John to be baptised, and John objects,

“It is I who need to be baptised by you” (Mt. 3:14)! 

Jesus’ response might seem strange at first glance:

“ Let it be so for the present; it is right for us to do all that God requires (Mt. 3:15). 

Matthew puts his finger right on the nub of the matter:

God’s whole purpose in creation, of putting things right, of righting wrong down through the centuries, comes together in this baptism.”  There in the River Jordan we see Jesus taking the side of God’s justice, and dedicating himself to set about promoting God’s work of righting the wrongs and lifting the burdens from the oppressed.  As such he shines the light of God’s truth into all the dark places of the world.

At Christmas we celebrated again the coming of God in Jesus. Here in Jesus’ baptism —

God comes and identifies with oppressed humanity standing in solidarity with us as a redeeming presence which frees us to experience the glorious future now in the present moment.

So the light that shone in the beginning and which shone at Bethlehem in the birth of Jesus,

shines even now in the dark places of our lives and in the darkest places of the world; and nothing, absolutely nothing can extinguish it.

“The true light which gives light to everyone was even then….” in the very person of Jesus. —God’s true Servant , coming into the world”.(John 1:9)n“and we have seen his glory! the glory as of God’s true Servant, full of grace and truth.”(John 1:14)

Revd Michael Diffey