Lectionary: Epiphany 2A

by Matthew B. Harper

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-4

The words of the prophet Isaiah contain four “servant” songs, and today we read from the second one. Each of these songs assumes the guise of The Servant of God, and praise God for all that has been, is being, and will be done. But who is the servant?

To understand and explore this passage we must understand that there are multiple levels of meaning and identity. At the most superficial we are talking about the Prophet himself. But the meaning is obviously much deeper and more complex. At the deepest level we are talking about the Messiah. Isaiah has, perhaps, more to say about Messiah than any other Old Testament book, and all four servant songs can be understood from the perspective of The Messiah. During this Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season there is rich ground here for Messiah-centric preaching.

But in between these two layers of identity is a middle ground, and it is the middle ground I find the most rich. Isaiah’s Servant is an idealized, perfected, vision of Israel itself. For while Christ, The Messiah, is the ultimate High Priest Israel is itself to be a nation of priests. The people of God are, individually and collectively, the servant of God.

From this ground there are rich stories to be explored about Christ’s Messiahship, and how that informs and glorifies our service for God.

The New Testament and Gospel readings inform this perspective, and what Paul makes explicit John demonstrates. Paul is an Apostle “by the Will of God,” and he further encourages the ‘sanctified’ to whom he writes that they too have been called to be God’s people. In John’s gospel we see how Jesus foreknew and called His first Apostles.

But why? Why are we called?
And how are we to accomplish any of God’s work?

The Psalm gives me the most beautiful illustration of my own faith journey. I have sinned so deeply, and been overwhelmed with despair and grief. I am in prison, and often feel lonely, abandoned, and discarded. This is a deep pit, from which God has indeed lifted me. I have been transformed from the inside out, and put in places to minister and do kingdom work. As a musician it is no metaphor to say God has indeed put a new song in my mouth.

Do I have these gifts of my own? Certainly not. As Paul reminded the Corinthians, I have only received the gifts God has given me.

Do I have the gifts necessary? Paul is clear God has given me the gifts I needed when I needed them.

One thing Isaiah and the Psalm make clear is that our task is now to live for God, giving thanks not with an empty action, but with actions full of the deepest meaning – love. Our servanthood is lived out through our ministry.

We are not perfect, and we are not the Messiah. But through grace we have become People of the Messiah. Together we are the Body of Christ. God has redeemed us in our sin, purified us in God’s grace, and we give thanks and glory to God by singing that sweet song placed in our heart.

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