You are the servant: let your light shine

In Isaiah there are three “servant songs.” Today we heard the second of these. The songs describe a servant who will rescue the people, who will be a light to the world, who will suffer for the people.

There are various theories about who the servant is: Some identify him as Cyrus of Persia. The local priests, as a way of protecting themselves, furthering their own interests and because they believed there may have been powerful god’s supporting him identified him as “God’s anointed” after he invaded Judah. [1]

Sometimes these passages are used to describe and make sense of Jesus’ life.

Sometimes these passages are used to articulate the call of the Jewish people in the world. The passage we heard this morning is explicit in naming the Jewish people collectively as the servant who will be a light to the world.

The point is, as with many scriptures, there are many interpretations and people in different times and places interpret scripture differently. This is why we talk about scripture as living. It is why we believe that scripture continues to speak to us even though it is thousands of years old. We need to continue making scripture relevant to our own situations and making connections with how it speaks to us in our own lives.

I’ve identified three servants that are often cited in commentaries but the possibilities for the servant are endless. This passage describes the servant as someone who is created by God. As people of faith we believe that God was present at the beginning of creation and that God continues to be present in every birth and in the creation of each one of us.

The passage also tells us that the servant will be called by God. In the paraphrase from Laughing Bird [2] we here these words “Before I was born, the LORD had chosen me; given me a name and a job while I was still in my mother’s womb.” If we look at the gospels there are many stories of Jesus calling people to discipleship and ministry. As Christians we believe that the call Jesus gave the disciples extends to us. We are called to be God’s people in the place and time where we live. The inclusive language translation [3] offers these words linking our creation and our call: “YHWH called me before I was born, and named me from my mother’s womb.” Not being called is not an option. We are called simply by our birth.

 

At times the servant will be discouraged: “How come every thing I do comes to nothing then? I’ve worked my guts out but there is nothing to show for it. But I gave it my best shot for you LORD, so you decide whether I’m worth my pay.” The servant is tired and disheartened. They had been trying to do God’s work, laboring and struggling and feeling like nothing was going right. God isn’t helping to move the project forward. And then the servant is reminded that God is working behind the scenes and helping in ways that are unknown.

The passage asserts again that the servant is called by God from birth and that there is purpose in the servant’s life, even in the midst of struggle. God present and helping with the current project and not only will this project succeed but God will place a light within the servant so that everyone around will be able to see.

The servant role could apply to anyone of us. We are all created and called by God. God is present with each and every one of us even when we walk in places that are dark and scary or uncomfortable. God does not leave us alone in pain and discomfort but sometimes when we are in those moments of our lives we feel like everyone is against us and like God has abandoned us. Sometimes we work really hard thinking we are doing God’s work and the work is a struggle or it feels like everyone is against us. But even in that struggle God is working.

Not only will God be present with us, God’s light will shine in us and through us into the world. When might wonder who we are to be a light. But a light doesn’t have to appear big and powerful to remind us of God’s presence. Stars appear as a tiny pinprick of light in the night. But there are millions of them shining away in the universe. By themselves, they don’t seem like very much but together they light up the whole sky so that even in darkness there are lights.

In the dark places of our lives and world we need those pin pricks of light to remind ourselves and the world that we are not alone. These lights show us the way. They provide comfort. Sometimes we are a point of light for someone else. It might not seem like much as one person but when place ourselves beside someone else and joined by others we become that sky of light for someone in the dark places. Sometimes we need to see the light so that we know we are not alone. We need to be reminded that even in the darkness there is light.

We also need to remember that night and darkness are temporary. The sun continues to shine on the other side of the world even when we can’t see it.

We are all the servant in this passage, created and loved by God with God’s light shining in us and through us so that we may be lights in our relationships with others, our community and world.

When we feel disheartened we just need to look around and see the lights that touch our lives to be reminded of God’s light and love that touches us, guides us and protects us.


[1] For more background see: Lisbeth S. Fried, “Cyrus the Messiah? The historical Background to Isaiah 45:1.” Harvard Theological Review 95:4 (2002), pp. 373-393.

 

[2] This paraphrase may be found at http://laughingbird.net/ScriptureParaphrases.html

 

[3] The inclusive Bible, Priests for Equality,  Rowman And Littlefield: Lanham, 2007.

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