The Second Sunday after Christmas| Rev. Rolf Preus| January 2, 2011| Isaiah 42:1-9
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law.” Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk on it: “ I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house. I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” Isaiah 42, 1-9
Why should the almighty God become flesh run away from a second rate king and hide in Egypt? Why should his stepfather have to rely on messages from angels and communication through dreams? Herod was pure evil. Why not just terminate him with extreme prejudice?
But God doesn’t think the way we do. Who has known the mind of the Lord? His ways and thoughts are not ours. No one could have conceived that God would become a man. But not only did God become a man. He became a humble and obedient servant. He did not become a superman. Here is now St. Paul puts it in his Epistle to the Philippians:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
God didn’t become a man to do what he could do without becoming a man. God became a man to do what he could not do except as a man. The incarnation of the Son of God was necessary, but not for God. It was necessary for us. It was necessary that a human being do what God required of humanity. Not only did God have to take on the nature of a man; he had to do as a man what we were obliged to do. He had to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.
God requires us to live a life of humble obedience. This isn’t just a good idea. It is immutable divine law. The life of humble obedience suffers. It puts up with hurt and injustice. Jesus was the almighty God when he lay in a manger. Jesus was the almighty God when his parents fled from Herod’s wrath and took him to Egypt. Jesus was the almighty God when his Father called him out of Egypt in fulfillment of the prophecy of Hosea. While Jesus was the almighty God he nevertheless lived a life of humble obedience.
He was God’s Servant.
Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.
God the Father upheld him throughout his work. He chose him, elected him. He delighted in him. The Holy Spirit rested upon him. He always did what was good and right and true. He was the perfect Servant, humbly submitting to the will of the Father. He did justice. He did righteousness. In doing righteousness he brought righteousness to the world. The righteousness we need in order to be righteous before God is the righteousness that he brought forth. It is his humble obedience. He brought it to the whole world.
When the Father delights in his Servant he is delighting in us Christians. Christians are those who believe in Christ Jesus and who have put him on in Holy Baptism and are thus clothed in his righteousness. They are those with whom God is well-pleased.
He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth.
He doesn’t force anyone to do anything. He doesn’t bully the disobedient into a coerced obedience. He speaks kindly and gently. His voice is the voice of persuasion.
The bruised reed and smoking flax are believing but timid souls that feel like running away from God. They have faith, but their faith is bruised and hanging on by a thread. It is there. But it’s flickering and about to go out. Christ, God’s Servant, does not break off the bruised reed. He strengthens it. He doesn’t quench the smoking flax, but fans it into flame.
Jesus does not relish showing us our sins. But he must do so. He proves to our conscience that we have not loved God above all things and that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. But he always teaches us the law for the sake of the gospel. He wants us to know and to believe that for his sake all our sins are forgiven.
The bruised reed and the flickering wick will be broken off and snuffed out if all they know is what they have done wrong. They need to know what God has done for them. This will bring healing to their souls.
He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law.
This is not a political justice. It doesn’t depend on policemen, courts, and a criminal justice system. This is perfect justice. It is the justice that only the holy, virgin-born Servant of God can produce, for he is just and does nothing but justice.
Mere men and women give up. They try. They become discouraged. They give up. Their own inner sin bogs them down. But this Servant does not give up. He does not fail. He is not discouraged. He establishes justice all over the earth. Wherever his gospel is proclaimed and believed justice reigns.
Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk on it:
This is the Father talking to his only begotten Son who is incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary. This is God the Father talking to his beloved Son who has become his Servant as the representative of humanity. God our Father is talking to God our brother. The one who created all things, who formed all things, who sustains all things, now speaks to the perfect man, the most dutiful servant, our dear brother, and he says:
I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house.
What beautiful words! The perfectly dutiful Servant has a perfect relationship with him who chose him, who called him, who sustained him. In this way he fulfills the covenant. He becomes the way of peace between God and his sinful people.
He is the light to enlighten the Gentiles who were living in the darkness of idolatry. He gives sight to the blind. He extends God’s kingdom, not by military power or threats of it, but by the truth of his suffering for the sin of the world. Later on Isaiah would write concerning this suffering Servant:
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
The message of Christmas is the message of a holy birth. God himself planned it and God himself determined what this Child would do. The dutiful Servant of God would obey all the way to the death of the cross where he would bear the sin of the whole world and in this way take away all our sin.
The root of all sin is idolatry or false worship. Every single sin is the sin of false worship because the life of a Christian is the life of worship, of giving God true praise and glory. How? Not in ways we devise for ourselves. That would be idolatry. There is only one way to glorify God the Father. That is by glorifying his Son, his obedient Servant, the one who enlightens the whole world and bears our sin away. Only in Christ is idolatry uprooted:
I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.
One of the greatest threats to Christianity today is the religion of Islam. As Christianity in Europe continues its long decline and as Christianity in America follows not too far behind, Islam is raising its claims with increasing fervor and intensity. Islam is anti-Christian at its heart. It vehemently denies that God has a Son. Indeed, it claims that such a teaching is idolatry. But Muhammad was dead wrong. It is precisely in God’s Son, our brother, God’s most dutiful and obedient Servant Jesus Christ our Savior, that we find the forgiveness of our sins and a genuine relationship of children with our heavenly Father. Only in this God become flesh brother of ours can we see God as God truly is. He alone provides spiritual enlightenment. Only when God becomes our brother can we know him. Apart from the knowledge of God in Christ all our worship will be nothing but idolatry. In Christ our future is secure, for it is in the hands of him who has fulfilled the promises of the past.
Take your refuge in this Servant of God whose obedience is reckoned to you as righteousness. And for his sake, Happy New Year! Amen