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Narrative Lectionary Text:
Isaiah 42:1-9 and Matthew 12:15-21
Every week we say that Advent is a season of waiting.
I wonder. What are you waiting for? I know my son told me that he is waiting for the day when we stop talking about waiting.
What about you?
I think that question is different for each of us.
Some of you are waiting for something wonderful, like a baby to arrive, or a job promotion to go through.
I know I’m waiting for something. I’ve been in school for the past four years. I’ve read hundreds of books, written thousands of pages, and transcribed hundreds of hours of audio files. Now I’m writing my dissertation. I’m so close, and yet, I still have to wait.
Some of you are waiting for the test results to come back.
Some of you are waiting to see if your marriage will hold together.
Some of you are like Jeannie Hellmann, our director of Women’s ministries and outreach ministries. For the past two weeks she has been sitting by her mother’s bedside, waiting for her to take her last breath.
There are many people in the world who are waiting for the pain, the abuse, and the oppression to end.
How do we feel in these times of waiting?
In all of them, whether they are positive or negative situations, there is this sense of anxiety, and anticipation, and powerlessness in waiting. Something out there is working, and there is nothing we can do about it. It is like we are in a dark prison and we can’t get out.
What is it that we are all waiting for?
We wait for a light of hope in the darkness.
We wait for justice, to make right all the wrongs.
The people of Israel knew this situation.
That’s what our passage in Isaiah is all about today. We’re looking in Isaiah 42:1-9. I’ve drawn a visual map of this passage to help us work through it.
In order to really understand this passage we need to remember that it takes place in the bigger story of the whole Bible.
Do you realize something about this sermon? It is the last one from the Hebrew Scripture for this season. Next week there is no sermon because of the choral presentation. Then it is Christmas and we move into the Gospel of Matthew.
That makes it doubly important for us to go back and review where we have come this fall. We’ve been tracking with their story throughout the Fall. We started out in September looking at the promises that God made. God made that one big promise to Abraham. God said to Abraham, I will make you a great nation. I will bless you, and through you I will bless…who? All nations.
Ever since Abraham’s family, the Israelites, the Jews, have been waiting. They were slaves in Egypt. Then Moses led them out, gave them a law, and Joshua brought them into the promised land. They went through the cycle of Judges, then they had king David and Solomon. The nation divided into the Kingdom of Israel to the north and the kingdom of Judah to the south.
When the prophet Isaiah wrote his words, the Kingdom of Judah had been suffering for many years.
Look at this map. The people of Jerusalem watched while their brothers and sisters in the Northern Kingdom of Israel were slaughtered and completely destroyed by the Assyrian Empire. Then the Babylonians assimilated the Assyrians and surrounded Judah. Eventually the Babylonians took Judah into the darkness of captivity.
Isaiah speaks to these people living in darkness. He tells them that there is light for the nations. He calls this light justice. He says that some day one will come upon whom God will put the Spirit, and this person will be that light and bring justice to all nations.
That person is Jesus. We saw that in our Gospel reading. In Matthew 12:15-21 the gospel writer connects Jesus to the one to whom Isaiah was speaking in our passage in Isaiah 42.
Sweet. Now we know that Jesus is the light for the nations and the one who will bring justice for all.
Here’s the question I want to ask.
How? How is Jesus the light for the nations and the bringer of justice? What does that look like?
It is important to note something about this passage in Matthew 12.
You need to go back a few verses and see what had just happened before Matthew connects Jesus to this prophecy. Jesus’ disciples had just picked grain from a field on the Sabbath day, because they were hungry. Jesus had just healed a crippled man on the Sabbath day, because he was in need.
The religious leaders looked at Jesus and his disciples and all they could see was a bunch of law breakers. In their eyes, Jesus was a sinner and they threatened his life.
So, what did Jesus do?
He went out into the streets and started protesting and caused a riot, right? Nope. He did go out into the streets, but instead of rioting, he simply continued healing people.
This is an important point.
When you think of the word justice, what comes to mind?
I know I’m a geek, but what comes to my mind is a super hero.
The Justice League of America, or the Avengers. When we think of justice we think about somebody swooping into a bad situation, kicking bad guy butt, and taking names. Right? We want justice to be served, and that means somebody has to pay for all the injustice.
That’s not how God serves up justice. Notice how Isaiah describes it.
It is not through violence or power.
He says that the one who brings justice is
So quiet he can’t be heard in the streets.
So gentle that not even a bruised reed is broken.
So slow that not even a dimly burning candle will be blown out.
I look at that and think, No Way! That guy will get slaughtered by evil. That kind of behavior can never bring about justice.
There’s one key word that makes it work.
Isaiah says he faithfully works until justice comes for all nations.
Do you see what’s happening.
Jesus did not fight fire with fire.
He did not fight evil with evil.
Jesus simply lived his life faithfully bringing the grace and healing of God’s love to all people, and eventually laid down his life and let evil crush him. He was faithful to the end.
When the powers beat him and crucified him, what did he do? Hanging from the cross, he looked down those who killed him and said, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”
And then he died.
He trusted God, stayed faithful, and God raised him from the dead and conquered death itself.
And then, Jesus poured out the Spirit on us.
Today, we are the body of Christ. And we are called to be the light to the nations. We are called to bring justice.
I was looking at that word, justice.
Then it hit me. It isn’t “just us” it is justice for all nations.
You see, justice is not repaying the bad guys with evil.
Justice is when all people realize that we are equal at the foot of the cross. We are all sinners who need a savior. We are all in this together.
So, we wait until that day.
What are you waiting for?
My Dad always told me that this life, this spiritual journey that we are on is a lot like driving on the highway in a blizzard. You can be zooming along, but sometimes, when the snow blows a certain way, it can feel like you aren’t moving. All we can do in that moment is keep our eyes on the reflectors, and trust that the people who made them.
That’s called being faithful. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus and trust that God is faithful to God’s promise. There will be justice for all, and it starts with us.
We are called to be the light like Jesus was.
Take a deep breath.
Move slowly and gently through your week.
Offer a gentle smile, even to the crankiest of neighbors.
Let’s be a faithful light to a dark world while we wait.