In my first year of seminary I had two roommates. They were both brilliant and creative and passionate about caring for people… but They didn’t always get along. Kate was quieter, thoughtful in her responses, and an introvert. Audrey was brass, loud, and, at the time, thrived in debate.
One day we were all on our way into school and some discussion, maybe about things related to theology, or God, or people, or not, it was hard because it was my first year and I still hadn’t learned all the language yet to follow along with all the conversations. Anyway, Kate turns to Audrey and yells: “Just because you’re louder, doesn’t mean you’re right!”
Audrey worked in advocacy, For full inclusion, for labor rights. Her approach was generally one of moving quickly and hot and loud. And to be fair I probably still think Audrey is right about a lot of things and maybe it was just because she was always the loudest in the room. But when she saw an injustice she couldn’t let it stand and she did what she could to change the world or at least her part of.
I thought about that car ride and I thought about Audrey when I read our scripture for today. The part where it says the servant Will not lift their voice or be heard in the streets, That’s not how Audrey chose to do Justice.
This part of Isaiah is written towards the end of the time of exile. The Judeans, the people living in and among Jerusalem had been conquered by the Babylonians and their leadership had been taken, removed from Jerusalem and moved to Babylon. The prophet Isaiah and as it had been more than 50 years since the 1st prophet Isaiah had started writing, those who were writing in the prophet’s name have been taken into exile too. Their time and exile is drawing to a close there was a new Empire on the rise. And the people in bondage and captivity needed hope that what had been was passed and what will be will be better.
Maybe they were waiting on someone who would save them, who would set the world right.
And here we have God’s promise to send a servant, who will have God’s spirit and bring Justice to the nations. And if you thought They needed to be the loudest in the room to be right, we’re told no that they will not lift their voice or make it heard in the street. If you thought they needed to move in power and aggression, the answer is no. God through the prophets says that those who are already bruised and battered, and those who seem to be barely holding on, whose light seems to be fading, will be cared for and restored. Even when the world isn’t messy, or falling apart, or there is injustice and violence on all sides, the servant comes in gentleness and restores even the wounded back to full life.
It should come as no wonder then how we came to think of the servant as Jesus.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, another, new Empire had risen, and the people were not their own, and the land was not their own. And everyone was looking to be free, for the world to be set right, for justice to prevail, especially if that means that it would be justice AGAINST the empire.
And what we have are the stories of Jesus, born into a working class family, and grew to reveal his strength was found in being gentle enough to lift up those who had been bruised and whose wick was barely burning.
At Advent, we remember when Christ came into the world to set the world right and we remember that Christ is coming again to set the world right. And so we wait and we watch for the servant to come. One person to rise up and bend the arc of Justice for the rest of us. Because it is so much easier if it is just one person, if we can focus on one person who is going to convince us how to make the world right and will lead the charge.
We saw it last week with Esther, the one person who could set the nation right to bring Justice for her people. But she doesn’t arise out of nowhere. No doubt she had been taught as a child what it meant to be Jewish, the ways of their faith, and the stories of God and her people. And Esther rose out of a community that held her in prayer and fasted. Their cries of Justice were what gave her the courage and the strength to do what needed to be done.
And when we think of more modern times, of people who were the one, the one who could name and bring justice, we think of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr. But Dr. King didn’t rise out of nowhere to a place of power, Dr. King Jr. was nurtured by a father who was also a reverend, and in the Ebenezer Baptist church, and in the midst of the student nonviolent movements and the black liberation Movement. Dr. King didn’t rise out of nowhere but was nurtured in these movements, by these servants who did not let their voices rise higher in the streets, who did not wound or break those who had been bruised by the world and its systems, who did not let one whose light was dimming go out or stand alone.
We live in a culture of individualism. It influences how we earn, how we save, how we consume. And affects how we see each other. It affects how we see the world. That’s who we think our neighbors are and what our connection with each other is.
In the ancient world, and in other parts of the world today, it isn’t about you and me, it’s about us and we. Ubuntu is a Bantu word that names the African philosophy that we are human only through the humanity of others, shortened often to “I am because we are.” and longer by Archbishop Tutu, “You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality-ubuntu-you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, where you are connected and what you do affects the whole world.”
The second half of Isaiah 42 is about the covenant people being a light to the nations because the nations need each other. The nations need each other to vision a way of justice, and to set justice into motion.
So the question is always raised when someone reads this text: Who is the servant? But we could also ask: Is it just one person or is it all the people of God? And what if the answer is “yes.” Yes, a person, and yes, the people of God. Yes, Jesus who loved gently, who liberated and healed, who taught how to love, who revealed in action God’s justice and mercy, and said to his disciples, and us, you will do greater things than these,” “you are the hands and feet, salt and light.”
But it isn’t you, it’s us, together. It is Emmanuel and its 135 years of ministry in Lake Country. We are called to be a light to our community, to our neighbors, to bring restoration to those who have been bruised by the world, to hold a light to those who are burned out. We are called to be light, together. One light on its own might grow weary, but we are part of 135 years of light, we are adding to it, we are being light for each other when another grows weary. Lights grow stronger together, to bring hope, to bring vision, to bring justice, to bring something new and unexpected from the heart of God to the world. That is why we had the song at the beginning of the service! We are visioning a world, we are visioning a world that is based in the justice of God, where the captives are set free, where the lost are found, and where the bruised and the weary are restored. And God says they will be with us, we are not doing this alone. God will take our hand, they hold our hands as we make these moves of bringing justice and love, where all are welcomed in and loved and have a place and a calling and a purpose. We dream and vision a world we’re going to make in the light of the love of God, we’re all made part of the light–able to live lives of truth and love and abundance.
This is the Good News, this is sometimes scary news, this is news that requires us to do something. The servant is coming and the servant is here and the servant is us. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are called to something, something that is a light to this community, that heals the wounded and restores the weary. It isn’t me, and it isn’t you alone, it is us, it is we. Here is my invitation to you this week, what are the needs of this community? Where do you find one who is bruised by this world? Who we weary to the end of their wick? Where is there a place for light to shine? Look for it. Just because we’re lovely Lake Country doesn’t mean there aren’t those who are struggling. You know that, because you’ve struggled, too.
And let us talk about those things, let us name them, maybe there is a way we can bring light and healing for all.