A light to the nations

12 January 2014
First Sunday after Epiphany
“The Baptism of Christ”
Epiphany 1A (RCL)
Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

The season of Sundays after Epiphany continue the theme of the manifestation of the Christ to the world (and specifically to the ‘nations’). In all of the accounts of Jesus’ baptism, we are told that the spirit descends in the form of a dove, and voice is heard from heaven declaring Jesus as God’s Son. The voice from heaven echoes Isaiah’s first Servant Song, which is the first reading for this Sunday. This reference to Isaiah makes it clear that the manifestation of the Christ to the world happens not only one time at the Jordan River, but is ongoing through the Church’s baptism.

Isaiah’s first Servant Song is set with the context of the heavenly court. The gods of the nations are on trial (see chapter 41), and have been adjudged no gods at all. God is now going to present God’s case for what the Servant will accomplish now that the nations’ gods have been overturned. God presents his servant to the court. It is clear from the previous chapter that the “Servant” is the progeny of Abraham and Sarah, who were originally to be a blessing for the whole world. Clearly, in the midst of the Exile, this promise is yet to be fulfilled. So, God is now arguing that the fulfillment of that promise is about to take place, and to take place through the Servant, the progeny of Abraham and Sarah.

The Servant will bring forth God’s justice to the whole world, and not through the sort of triumph of war we would expect of a king, nor through the loud preaching of a prophet. Instead, he will do it quietly, yet certainly, through instruction. Imagine reading this as one of the progeny of Abraham and Sarah, sitting in Babylon in Exile, and being told that the Servant’s vocation is to bring justice to the whole world through torah. The way you go about living your life, then, becomes a crucial part of the fulfillment of God’s promise for the whole world. You need not triumph through a king, nor shout through a prophet, but live your life according to torah.

Because each of the accounts of the Baptism of Jesus makes reference to the Isaiah’s Servant Songs, we are to see Jesus as that Servant, that is, as the representative of the progeny of Abraham and Sarah. But, just as in Isaiah, the servant is the representative of a corporate reality. Jesus represents all the baptized. Our vocation, just as the servant’s, is to bring about justice to the world by the way we live, not through war-like triumph, nor shouted prophecy, but by tending the dimly burning wick. We shine forth God’s glory in the simple acts of torah that bring justice to the world.

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