January 13, 2008
The Servant Song and the Son of Man
Isaiah 42:1-9 Acts 10:34-43 Matthew 3:13-17 Psalm 29
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us – that we might share your gospel, and do your work. Amen.
In the Psalm we have recited together this morning, the voice of the Lord is heard as thunder. Over and over again the gigantic voice booms out: trees split, mountains tremble, the wilderness echoes with the great sound. And among the people of God assembled in the Temple, the response is to reply likewise with one great voice, “Glory!”
The Lord is the Thunderer, the Lightning-bringer: the triumphant and majestic one. And it is he, this very one greater than all the earth, who is Israel’s friend. It is he sustains the people of God in the wilderness and brings them in safety into a new home. It is he who gives peace.
It is the one who gives peace, the one who guides his people safely, who appears, also, in the prophet Isaiah. And yet here he is gentle, calm, small. A reed he will not bend. No longer the voice of thunder, or earthquake, or flood, or wind, or fire: God is heard in a still, small voice, a gentle, quiet voice.
A few days before Christmas, in Seattle’s Town Hall, I listened to a performance of Handel’s Messiah. There was a quiet soprano voice, not too loud, but clear: and it sang, “Unto you is born a Savior." Unto you!
The love of the Lord comes quietly to us, personally to us, bringing us the peace and reassurance of a loving Savior traveling by our side. This is the same Lord whose majesty is over all creation. The One who creates heaven and earth is great, beyond all measure or boundary, and yet the smallest creature is his special delight, his particular care.
Peter, in the story from Acts that we have heard today, is in the house of Cornelius, a centurion, a Roman military commander, a Pagan – not a Jew. He has been astonished to find that, yes, God’s hand extends even this far: beyond the national boundaries of Israel, beyond nationality, even into the homes of the people he may have felt most distant from, the occupiers of his land. God’s hand reaches out and reconciles the most polarized of opponents. He is that mighty. He can bring peace.
And, in the story of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John, he not only brings peace: he embodies peace. He comes himself to establish the reign of peace.
At the river the Servant appears. The one in whom the Lord delights, the chosen, the Savior, here he is: fulfilling all righteousness, doing what is fitting for any human being, taking on the sign of baptism, of repentance, of turning again to the Lord and thereby finding new life, this very one who embodies salvation in his person, is here now with us.
John steps back: what are you doing, coming to me? I should be coming to you! No. He is here already. God has sent him and he is doing more than we could ask for: he is taking on our humanity, not saving us by remote control, but by his very being with us, risking alongside us, living alongside us.
Good news: The Servant that Isaiah sung about, the one we have been waiting for, the one that all creation and all nations are waiting for, is Jesus. He is here, in the river, immersed in the water of life.
Great news: The Servant that Isaiah sung about, the light to the nations, called by God in righteousness, is more than just one man. And more than Jesus, standing by himself, wet to the skin, newly emerging from the river water. The people plunge in. They are baptized, too, and they too rise to new Life.
They are the people of God, the people who turn to new life, the people who offer the salvation of God to the whole world. The Servant that Isaiah sung about: is us… We are the people of God, endowed with God’s spirit, sent by Christ into his world to make disciples of all nations, and to embody the love of God.
Jesus is the Servant, yes. He is the one who shows us the way, who is the way. But he is not alone. The whole people of God are the Servant that Isaiah sung about. The people of God are called to follow Jesus into this new world, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon into light.
Peter sees it all at once and just as a beginning: through Cornelius of all people, a Roman centurion, he sees that God shows no partiality but that anyone of any nation who truly worships God and follows righteousness, that is, who does justice, loves mercy, and walks humbly with God, is accepted by God.
Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all. The whole world trembles, and rejoices. The clouds split, the oceans roar, and the people sing in the temple, Amen. “Glory!” they shout.
As Peter said: We are witnesses to all that he did. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate – they hung him from a tree; on the third day he rose again from the dead – God raising him; and he appeared to the witnesses chosen by God, those who eat and drink with him after his resurrection.
Oh, wait a minute: that’s us. We are going to eat and drink with him, this morning, at his table. And we are all welcome. Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins. All are welcome at the Lord’s table.
And when we take in that good news of salvation, and spread it and act on it and live it, we become the Servant, the people of God, along with Jesus. When the voice from heaven, loud and thundering – or quiet and gentle, comes ringing in our ears, what we can hear is God’s pleasure.
This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
Jesus comes quietly, at first.
The message he brings is simple, and new, and profound. God is doing a new thing, with us. God is not apart from us, triumphant and distant and untouched. He is with us, in our pain and sorrow and grief and joy and laughter and in every new birth, every new beginning. He blesses us.
This day, the feast of the baptism of Jesus himself, we remember our own baptisms as well. As we renew our baptismal vows today, on this feast day of the baptism of our Lord and Savior, we are blessed.
We are blessed by God with abundance of grace: we are fully alive, members of the new creation, the new thing God is doing in our midst, individually, corporately, socially.
Jesus leads the way, through the river – the water of baptism, repentance and newness of life. He leads the way across, into the challenge and promise of a new way of living, a new ordering of life. Jesus the new human being, the son of Man, is the first-born from the dead, who leads us forth from our tomb-like sins and sorrows into a new day, the day of the Lord, when he will refresh us and bring us this day into Paradise, the new world of God’s promise, the place of peace.
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.
This is the promise of God: enacted at the Jordan river, embodied in Jesus; it is the voice of God, “new things I now declare” – calling to us – to follow Jesus, to become part of the new life, and to bear this forth into the world, to the peoples of the earth, becoming a light to all the nations, bringing the good news of freedom and new life.
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (BCP)