Sunday’s Sermon: Let Justice Shine

  • I came across a really powerful video this week.
  • “First-World Problems Anthem”[1] –> Now, for those who aren’t familiar with this fairly new term, “first-world problems” encompass all those trivial issues that we complain about in our daily lives simply because we have nothing better to complain about.
    • Term has become popular, especially on social media sites (facebook, Twitter, etc.)
      • Way for people to recognize ridiculous nature of their own complaints
      • Way for other people to help you come to that realization
      • Often used in self-deprecating manner –> making fun of the things we whine about
    • But this video shines a whole different light on the idea of first-world problems. In the video, 11 of those “problems” are rattled off one after the other – things like “I hate it when my house is so big I need 2 wireless routers,” “I hate it when my mint gum makes my ice water taste too cold,” and “I hate it when I go to the bathroom and forget my phone.” But instead of being uttered by the privileged people who posted them on Twitter in the first place, these first-world problems are read by third-world people – more specifically, people in Haiti following the devastating earthquake there in 2010.
      • Like I said, shines whole different light – harsh and exposing – on our lives and our attitudes
      • Purpose of video: raise funds for an organization whose goal is to provide fresh drinking water for everyone
      • But the video also brings into focus one of the most important things that we’re waiting for during this season of Advent – justice. You see, with the birth of the Savior come both God’s love and God’s justice.
        • 2 promises that can’t be separated –> God’s love is a love that encourages and forgives and is also the great equalizer
          • Wants the same good for everyone
          • Offers the same acceptance to everyone
          • Same love for each and every person, no matter their status, bank account balance, geographic location, or any other factor –> God’s love will always be God’s love.
          • And God’s justice will always be God’s justice. – not talking about “first-world problems” justice –> talking about real justice
            • Freedom for those who are oppressed
            • Food for those who are hungry
            • Shelter for those who are homeless
            • Inclusion for those who have been shoved to the side their whole lives
  • See this promise of God’s compassionate justice in Scripture reading
    • First of four sections in Is referred to as “Servant Songs”
      • All speak of how this unnamed “Servant” will serve God among the people –> embody God’s love and work for God’s justice
      • Much debate among scholars over who “servant” really is
    • First proposal – “Servant” = Christ
      • Certainly recognize this – Is: Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.[2] –> sounds like Jesus’ baptism
        • Mt: When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[3]
      • Also a declaration in today’s text that sounds like God speaking of the coming Savior: I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations[4]
        • Jesus own description of himself in John: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.[5]
      • And then there’s the general spirit of this Servant. This Scripture speaks of how the Servant will bring about God’s eternal justice through dedication, faith, and perseverance. It speaks of how the Servant will be one who is compassionate, humble, and wholly selfless. Again, these sound like Jesus.
        • Paul in Phil: [Jesus] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.[6]
        • Jesus own words (Mk): For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.[7]
  • Now, all that being said, there are also scholars who argue that the identity of the Servant has been left intentionally ambiguous because that enables the role to be fulfilled by any number of different people in different situations.
    • Scholar: Israel received from [the] prophet Isaiah what the church received from its Christ, and that is what the church testifies to the world – the revelation that the God who creates is a just God, who restores sight to the blind, freedom to the captives, and grants strength to those who serve.[8] –> So Isaiah spoke the Servant’s words of compassion while crying out for justice. Jesus lived a life of compassion and embodied God’s justice whenever he could. And we have the chance to continue to convey God’s message of love while we work for justice in this imperfect world in which we live.
    • Different “Servants” played that part à recent history
      • Nelson Mandela
        • Could’ve had easy power – been chief of local tribe
        • Became lawyer instead –> firsthand witness to injustice of apartheid in South Africa
        • Arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison for leading groups opposed to apartheid
        • Spent 27 years in prison
          • Could’ve used those 27 to grow angry, bitter
          • Instead lifted others’ spirits and maintained integrity of his political beliefs
      • Deitrich Bonhoeffer
        • Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany
        • Helped form “Confessing Church” – church in Germany that refused to cowtow to Nazi party or compromise their faith to align with Hitler’s demands
          • Opposite of “German Christians” – combined Christianity with Nazi party beliefs
        • Arrested for helping Jews escape in 1943
        • Spent 2 year in concentration camps before being killed by Nazis in 1945 –> inspire other prisoners as well as guards/other Nazi camp workers up until the moment of his death
    • And these are just a few examples. Countless people throughout history have been that Servant for God – that voice for justice in the face of oppression, that call for peace and equality, that bringer of hope for those who are threatened and those who feel broken down and left behind.
  • So what does the work of the Servant look like? –> Is description of Servant’s mission: He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.[9]
    • In terms of Jesus as Servant: Think of Jesus’ mission here on earth – to bring God’s grace and forgiveness, to share God’s love with everyone, and to welcome the marginalized back into the fold from which they had been excluded for so long. Like Isaiah’s “Servant,” Jesus did this …
      • Without fanfare – without crying or lifting up his voice or trumpeting his deeds in the streets.
      • With fervent determination – He lived his mission to the very end, even through the pain and humiliation of the cross, without growing faint or being crushed by the weight of such a momentous task.
      • With a heart for those who had already suffered too much – Is: a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench –> Here, Isaiah is talking about those who have been left battered and bruised by life, those who feel so weary and worn-down that the flame of their passion, the flame of their faith, maybe even the flame of their life is barely flickering.
        • See this in Heb. – “dimly burning” = connotations of being utterly depleted (dull, colorless, even fearful) à When simple justices – basic human decencies – are denied, this is how people are made to feel.
          • Dull, colorless, fearful
          • Rejected, worthless, afraid
        • Isaiah’s assurance was that God would send a Servant to “faithfully bring forth justice” for all those who felt like bruised reeds and dimly burning wicks – for all those who still feel beat-down and overloaded and demoralized. And it’s this Servant-Christ – this Emmanuel, this Prince of Peace, this Christ-child – that we encounter in our hymn for today, too: Come, O Long-Expected Jesus.
          • Come, O long-expected Jesus, born to set all people free … Born all people to deliver … By your own eternal Spirit, come to claim us as your own.[10] –> conveys that waiting that the world been doing
            • Waiting for a deliverer
            • Waiting for hope
            • Waiting for justice
    • Work of the Servant in our own lives:
      • Important element = active waiting, not passive waiting à Bonhoeffer: We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.
        • We cannot sit idly by and watch one injustice after another chip away at God’s creation. God came to earth in the form of a tiny, vulnerable child in order to both truly feel the sting of that injustice and to fight it with everything that God had … and that includes us.
      • Sometimes, it’s hard to be the one seeking justice! It could mean recognizing things about ourselves that we don’t want to see – prejudices, misinterpretations, even fears. It could mean speaking up when we’d feel more comfortable staying silent or stepping out when it would be so much easier to stay rooted in anonymity. It could mean giving up some of our own comforts so we can make sure our brothers and sisters in Christ don’t go without.
        • “First-World Problems Anthem” –> To watch people in such impoverished circumstances voicing those dumb little things that we whine about every day is chastening to say the least.
        • Remember Is description of Servant’s mission: [The Servant] will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.[11] –> Nothing about this promises that striving for justice – the role of the Servant – will be fun or easy or comfortable. But it does convey what a truly crucial role this is.
  • Nelson Mandela once said, “A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it lowest ones.” I think we should say the same about the church, and I think we should say the same about ourselves. We should not be judged by how we treat those who have enough, but those who have nothing at all. Friends, we have brothers and sisters out there who are hurting, who are struggling, who are afraid and desperate and have nowhere to turn. As we wait for the Christ-child this Advent season, how can we shine God’s light of both love and justice on those who need it most? Amen.

[1] “First World Problems Anthem” by “Water is Life” (non-profit), Feb. 2013.

[2] Is 42:1.

[3] Mt 3:16-17.

[4] Is 42:6b.

[5] Jn 8:12.

[6] Phil 2:7.

[7] Mk 10:45.

[8] Richard F. Ward. “Baptism of the Lord (First Sunday After the Epiphany) – Isaiah 42:1-9 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 223.

[9] Is 42:2-4.

[10] Charles Wesley. “Come, O Long-Expected Jesus” in The New Century Hymnal. (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Publishing, 1995), 122.

[11] Is 42:2-4.

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