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Living in the Light: Called and Chosen.

Epiphany 2: Baptism of Jesus, Common Lectionary Year A

Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17

©2014 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Christmas is over.
The spectacular tree is down and packed away for another year,
with all the other decorations, except this one. (Epiphany star)
Taking the advice of Rev. Ellie in her sermon,
we’re not going to pack away the light of Epiphany just yet.
Not for nothing has the Christian Church of the global northern hemisphere
created a liturgical season out of the weeks between the end of Christmas and
the beginning of Lent,
and called it the ‘Season of Epiphany.’
It seems one day to celebrate God’s shining light,
signalled by the star and found in a stable,
is not enough for our darkened climes,
and they are right.

One day is not enough to get the hang of finding the right star to guide our path,
not enough for us to get the hang
of seeing signs of God’s light, truth, grace,
gifts God keeps putting in unlikely places,
so no wonder we need time to learn to find it.
One day is not enough to get the hang of
the possibility that not only are we
to look for God’s light shining into darkness,
but that God also chooses us and calls us
to be that light.
So we have a season, seven weeks,
to learn how to live in the light,
to learn how to be the light of Christ.

“Living in the light”
– who talks like that these days
-outside of a faith group?
It’s a bit ‘mystical’, ‘holier than life’, isn’t it?
And that beautiful poetic text Cathie read from Isaiah doesn’t make it much easier either.
It has an ethereal quality to it:
a ‘holy servant’ floating a few inches off the ground,
spreading some abstract thing called ‘justice’
over the earth,
while cupping a gently, feebly flickering flame,
while some chorus of heavenly voices
proclaims this figure to be “a light to the nations.”
It all sounds wonderful in a church,
but it doesn’t travel too well out to the world of traffic jams and tax returns.

But we do it a disservice if we think the poet’s vision is unworldly.
If we know where to look, how to look,
we’ll see a real world,
Isaiah’s world, and our own,
as the backdrop to his poetic vision.
First, we need to put Isaiah in his place; his place in history.
And he is to be found in the world’s refugee camps.
We know what they look like:
tents, cardboard ramshackle shelters, emaciated mothers with scrawny children,
grungy brown water poured into meagre rice rations, stale grain flecked with flies,
and everywhere the vacant look of despair.

Israel was gone.
Overrun by Babylon, the city in ruins,
the vineyards crushed to desert,
her people either housed in those slave camps in Babylon,
or left to scratch an existence from the rubble
of a destroyed kingdom a wrecked temple,
a ruined faith.

Once you have that in your mind’s eye,
the poet’s words become more nuanced,
shaded with suffering, achingly poignant.

How many among those exiled Israelites had bent carefully over the few remaining blades of grass,
sharing a drop of water to keep it alive to feed the last goat,
or for the hungry child to suck its last moisture?
How many of them knew not to waste the last tallow of the feebly burning wick,
only light and warmth against a desert cold night, but to kindle it in cupped hands,
light in darkness?
Who among them did not have first hand experience of the plight of the prisoner,
who hadn’t known the dungeons of despair….
we now realize that all these references to darkness are no mere rhetorical devices,
but the newsreel images of Isaiah’s day.

When the world has gone to hell in a hand basket,
human nature reveals itself;
some folk go looking for something bigger, stronger, mightier than the current tyrant,
and pray that the new force will sweep through
like a scythe through wheat stalks.
Others will look even higher, to the heavens,
calling down some God, any god,
who can take the terror away,
and restore the fortunes, turn back time,
create some utopian other world.
Others are more jaded; what’s the difference between one oppressor and the next? they muse.
There is no hope, no saviour, no God, no point.

Except Isaiah, that fool poet of faith,
he imagines otherwise.
I don’t imagine for a second, it was easy.
He knew how low, how dark, how hopeless things had become.
His questions were as probing, desperate as ours are, would be.
How can any God, any faith,
any political, or social, or religious figure,
or movement, make a difference in this world?
In this brokenness? In this mess?

His questions are ours:
Whence comes salvation, justice,
some right to basic living,
the right to eat, to sleep,
to raise children with hope,
in a world where winners get the lot,
and losers are left to die?
Whence comes salvation, healing wholeness,
in the midst of ageing,
or illness with no cure?
Whence comes salvation for the chronically underemployed,
where is the justice, the hope for equity,
for liberty and security
for the religiously or sexually, or racially different?

We look up, out, elsewhere,
we focus on the voice from heaven,
sure that this is where salvation will come from;
God will somehow interrupt the course of history with some massive redemptive bang…

But the voice from heaven
says otherwise.
In Isaiah’s poem, the voice says
“Look at this human figure, a servant,
the little guy who will not break a bent reed,
who huddles a flickering flame,
the one with no loud voice, no army at his back,
nothing other than the soft-spoken human acts of
Whence, salvation?
Here, among people just like you.”

And the voice from heaven in Matthew says:
“Look, this human one,
all river wet, a Galileean of no account;
if you want to see healing wholeness,
the salve to soothe the world’s sores,
watch – and do – what this one does.
This is with whom, and how I have chosen to heal and mend.”

It was ever thus.
How many times even in the history of our own generations have we
seen the truth of Isaiah’s words,
the truth of Matthew’s?
The world’s salvation, its hope for the future,
its answer to degradation, destruction, darkness,
has always come, not from the heavens like a bolt of lightning,
but from the heavens in the form of a dream
that rests, then burns, like a flickering flame,
in the hearts of God’s human ones.
Those few people, of seemingly no great account,
the Rosa Parks, the Nelson Mandelas,
the Martin Luther Kings, those Harvey Milks,
“those determined spirits, fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission”
who bring the salvation the world needs and craves,
who bring light to the nations.

Those about whom God’s voice is heard to whisper from the heavens,
with pride, love and tears cracking the voice,
“Look at this human one,
this lowly servant,
this love of my heart and light of my life,
light in the world,
this is the one in whom my soul delights.”

I don’t doubt,
that given the right circumstances,
given the flame you kindle in your heart
for some corner of the world’s brokenness,
you’ll hear that voice yourself,
because it’s folk like us
that God chooses and calls to salve the world,
it is you in whom God delights.
1. Gandhi

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