Sermon Ideas For Isaiah 42:1-9 Part 2
In this first Sunday after Epiphany we remember the revelation of Jesus to the gentiles represented by the Magi on the 12th night. Christmas is now over, a memory that lingers with us but moves more and more into the past. The new year is now ten days old. The mystery of Christmas has moved us deeply as we celebrated the coming of the Christ Child. But that is past. For most of us the decorations are now put away for another year. We take up our tasks, warmed by the Christmas experience; even so, we remember those for whom Christmas is not as joyful as it is for many of us. From a pastoral point of view this is the time to remember those who have an empty chair where there was once joyful celebration. These are folk who need a word of affirmation and comfort.
The Isaiah passage reminds us that Christmas is a beginning rather than an end. How many times has it been said that "nothing is as over as is Christmas." Yet from the perspective of faith just the opposite can be true when Christmas is perceived as a beginning rather than an end.
It is the advent of the in-breaking of the power of God. We now see Jesus not so much "a little baby thing that made a woman cry"; rather we see him as one on whom God has put God's Spirit. He is the sign of a new day in which he will "faithfully bring forth justice in the earth."
This is a pastoral word, although not always seen as such. Traditionally, pastoral people are nurturers bringing relief to those who suffer, who are lonely, are filled with fear, are plagued by guilt. How often has there been a tension between pastoral people and social justice people. This can become an unfortunate difference in focus rather than understanding the real need for both. Some people find guidance in Amos, while others look for nurture in Hosea.
In the end, it is not a matter of either/or but of both/and. The plight of the poor, the people trapped and lost in the inner city, the plight of the people in suburbs, the "up and out" along with the "down and out," all stir our hearts with their special needs. So it is we stand in awe as Jesus comes from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him. The understandable protests by John are set aside to "fulfill all righteousness."
From a pastoral perspective we consider the plight of those who still sit in darkness and rejoice in the covenant to the people, "a light to lighten the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prisons those who sit in darkness" (Is 42:6-7).
Our privilege and responsibility to bring the power of God to all the people is attested by the obedience of Simon Peter to go to the house of Cornelious and bear witness to the reality that God is not respecter of persons, that the word which we bear is the word of renewal and, as such, is a word that is sorely needed as we move into the new year with all its opportunities and dangers.
When I was a boy growing up in southwest Arkansas we sang a church song that has as its primary message, "Tell me the old old story of Jesus and his love." It is now no longer to be found in the two most recent hymnals published by the Presbyterian Church. But its meaning is still a vital part of renewal in this time of Epiphany. The story is old, but the struggle of our people is still that of prisoners. We are prisoners of our own sinful natures caught in our own dungeons. The prisons for most of us are not made of stone walls and iron bars, although for some that is the case. More likely, the prisons are of our own making, the prisons of the darkness of our lives. The "new things" we have the privilege of declaring are found in God's covenant with the people, a light to the nations. So strengthened, we move with confidence in this time of Epiphany. It is our privilege as well as our responsibility to let the Word go out in public as well as in private, in homes, in prisons, in sanctuary wherever human need is found.
William B. Oglesby, Jr. (deceased)