People of Light

January 8, 2023

First Sunday after Epiphany

People of Light

Isaiah 42:1-7

Sermon Podcast:


We are now in the season after Epiphany. Epiphany takes place on the thirteenth day after Christmas Day. It is the day celebrating that the gospel was opened to the Gentiles. The story of the wise men following a great light to Bethlehem and finding Jesus give us that great truth in which all of us can be thankful.

People of light. That is who we are. When I say light however, which of the meanings come to mind? The weight of an object or the illumination by an object?

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.[1]

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.[2]

People who find rest in the light burdens of Jesus and people who light the way for others to find him. Our text today describes that we cannot be one without the other. In particular, we cannot be the illumination for the world without slipping on his yoke of easy burden.

The Israelites in Isaiah 42 are in exile in Babylon and hoping that God will bring them back to Jerusalem.  What they find through the prophet is that God is about to answer their prayer. God is about to deliver them back to the promised land via a servant who will bring justice to all nations. They will be re-established through the work of justice from this servant. It will not be overnight, and they are promised that the servant will not grow tired or discouraged until the work is done. Their greatest desire for freedom is answered and then some. It won’t simply be that the Israelites will physically be re-established in the place of their heritage but also re-established with a purpose that transcends both Jerusalem and Israel.

All that sounds wonderful. It is exactly what they are waiting to hear. A welcome word it is indeed. The puzzling thing about this prophecy is how the servant of God will bring about the justice and restore the people.

They are used to the ways of Moses who sent plagues and parted seas. Or Joshua who fought the battle of Jericho and resettled the people. Or David who slew the giant, chopped off his head and continued to be a powerful warrior. But this servant will be different. He will use other means to bring about the justice of God. He will not cry or lift up his voice in the streets. He will not break even a weakened reed. He will not snuff out the wavering wick at the end of the candle. There will be another way.

God will raise up a servant who WILL bring justice through gentleness. He WILL bring truth through grace. He WILL accomplish this for not only Israel but the nations of the coastlands and the entire earth. The people are reminded that they are a covenant people called upon to be a light to the people of darkness. Those who are blind will receive sight, those who are in dark places / prisons will be released and they will be the instruments of transformation by being people of light.

People of light of the mild and gentle servant.

And here is the start of things getting off course. The place where trust in YHWH is less than complete. While the people will show they are ready for a victorious return and a purposeful existence they are not ready to do so by the means outlined. Gentleness.

Christ will not deal rigorously with those that come to him, but he will use all gentleness, cherishing the smallest beginnings of grace, comforting, and healing wounded consciences. Quench—That wick of a candle which is almost extinct, he will not quench, but revive and kindle it again.[3]

I don’t see a problem with defining success as justice as the prophet says. That is the desire on every heart for things to be made right and being to be held accountable bringing about peace. The peace that brings security and freedom is a not a stretch to get behind. The Israelites would have longed for peace since the beginning of their existence.

But the means to that end. That is another story. If you were needing to push a nail into a board to secure something, which tool would you use? A hammer of course! Or if you needed to measure the length of a room, what would you use? A tape measure, sure! YHWH was showing the Israelites that bringing the right tools was going to be the key to securing success. The problem is that the world shows us success is earned by being a certain way as describes in this advertisement for cryptocurrency with Matt Damon who is walking past heroes of yore and amazing feats of valor when he utters these words:

And in these moments of truth, these men and women, these mere mortals, just like you and me … as they peer over the edge, they calm their minds and steel their nerves with four simple words that have been whispered by the intrepid since the time of the Romans: “Fortune favors the brave.” [4]

Fortune may favor the brave but justice favors the gentle…

Justice is brought about by the something distinctly different; countercultural; seemingly foolhardy.

The mild and peaceful repose of his kingdom was indicated likewise. For after the wind that rends the mountains, and after the earthquake and after the fire come the tranquil and peaceful times of his kingdom, in which the Spirit of God does, in the gentlest manner, vivify and increase humankind.[5]

We are told that we must fight fire with fire. Jesus said, “turn the other cheek, give your coat along with your shirt, the meek will inherit the earth, blessed are those who are persecuted, forgive and you will be forgiven, love your enemy”[6] Choosing kingdom tools is choosing eternal outcomes.

To think that a sword will bring permanent peace is foolish. Sword only brings a momentary cessation of hostilities until more swords can be found and retribution brought. But gentleness, mildness, and indeed meekness are not only the attributes of the kingdom but the means by which the kingdom comes into fulness.

Preparing for the long difficult journey is the key for covenant people. Even his chosen servant, the one YHWY delights in is described as long-suffering and as the RSV translates verse four of chapter 42, “he will not fail or be discouraged.” There is no such thing as an overnight success in God’s kingdom. Jesus said himself that he did not come for a quick fix but a long fulfillment of what had been previously promised. [7]

Knowing the journey to justice will be a long one is one of the reasons God has given the promise of being a covenant people. Assurance that he is committed to the long haul and he will gather together a group who can mutually support one another. When one person gets down the others can pick them up. When one person grows weary others can bring strength. One may be discouraged but the community can be the ones who say, “you’ve got this because God’s got you.”

Knowing the journey to justice will be a long one is one of the reasons God says he delights in us. Truly finds joy in our presence and not just satisfaction in our productivity. You can only put up with people you put up with for so long. You can be with people you delight in for eternity.

Knowing the journey to justice will be a long one is another reason Jesus took up residence on earth, lived among us to share the kingdom perspective, suffered, and died to show the kingdom love, and rose again to show the kingdom power. Victory is won but not complete. We, the people of God, can live as a victorious people because one died one time instead of all die all the time.

For these reasons we can be people of gentleness who bring great illumination to the reality of God. Not because of what we do, but what he does for, in, and through us.

[1] Matthew 11:28-30

[2] Matthew 5:14

[3] John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes upon the Old Testament

[4] Matt Damon from Cryptocurrency Advertisement 2022

[5] Irenaus of Lyons

[6] Matthew 5 and 6

[7] Matthew 5