“Joy, For the Nations”
Isaiah 42:1-9 (42:6) – December 11, 2022
God has an amazing way of bringing about justice! You and I can think of countless situations where God is walking with faithful believers through all kinds of difficult situations! Yet our God cares for each and every situation, and our God accompanies all these in patient and long-suffering ways.
Today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah highlights God’s servant bringing justice, lighting the way to joy, and bringing release to the captives. God usually does not smite the “bad guys,” and we know God doesn’t throw thunderbolts at the people who make life so difficult for everyone else.
How on earth are we supposed to deal with rotten situations like chronic illness, unemployment, or natural disasters, then? What could you and I do when we are being mistreated or oppressed or trampled, like the people of Israel were by the Babylonians? Because, that was who was beating up on the armies of Israel at the time Isaiah wrote. And, the Babylonians finally conquered the Israelites and took many of them away to the country of Babylon as hostages, and enforced labor.
This rotten situation was very real for Isaiah and the country of Israel, in other words! What are the people to do? How should they deal with evil, unfeeling oppressors?
The prophet writes, speaking for God: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.” “But, Lord,” I can just hear many of the people of Israel say, “When will this be? How long do we need to wait? Why are You taking so long?”
Waiting is just what we’re doing now. Right now, we are in the season of Advent; we are waiting for the coming of the Messiah, of the Servant of the Lord. The Baby in Bethlehem. Today is the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy. The week of continuing expectation, and the week of the Virgin Mary.
Several themes of this reading from Isaiah are so similar to the themes of the song of the Virgin Mary – the Magnificat from Luke chapter 1. The angel Gabriel has just told the teenage Mary she will bear the Messiah, the Servant of the Lord. The next thing we know, Mary starts singing this amazing song! Hearkening back to Hannah’s song from 1 Samuel and to this song we read today from chapter 42. Similar to God taking delight in the servant of the Lord, Mary begins her song taking joy in the Lord. As she says, “From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” As God proclaims the promise to “to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness,” so Mary takes heart in God’s promise that the Lord considers, cares for, and acts on behalf of the lowly.
Both of these songs proclaim radical actions! Both of these songs are from a subversive point of view. Both of these songs – the Magnificat of Mary and this servant song from Isaiah – talk of toppling existing unrighteous power structures and erecting a topsy-turvy power structure with the have-nots receiving more than enough from God. Mary goes even further, stating that “it is not for kings or the mighty and powerful that the Lord has regard, rather it is for all the rest that God does great things.” 
Both songs raise the question of justice. Both time periods had the people of Israel under the boot of conquering, oppressive nations: Babylon in the time of Isaiah, and Rome in the time of the Gospel of Luke. I can just hear the people of Israel say, “Has God abandoned us? Are we still God’s people? Is God still God?” Because of exile and oppression, the people of Israel could only conclude that God had withdrawn favor and allowed the conquerors to punish them for their sins and disobedience.  Yet, into all of this upset and darkness and uncertainty, both songs praise God for being God. Can we do that too, and praise God, today? Both songs address the theme of justice for all people, not just for a few. Can we believe in God’s statement of justice for all, even though every day we see the poor and the downtrodden getting pushed around, and the humble and lowly being overlooked and even discarded?
“Isaiah reminds this exiled people that God has not abandoned them but is indeed at work among them, restoring them to be a blessing. This is good news! God is still God.” This loving, caring attitude of God is amazing, in God’s approach to bringing justice to all people. Both Isaiah and Mary have strong feelings about justice—especially radical, subversive Mary! Our patient God is working with all of us, gently, gradually, to bring change and justice into this fallen world.
Both Isaiah and Mary sing a song that can be, should be, our song in this Advent season. As we have prepared for the coming of the Christ Child, now we too can sing in thanksgiving, in celebration, in remembrance, and in proclamation of the promise made to our ancestors. And, the promise made to us, too. What can we say but, alleluia! Come, Lord Jesus!