(sermon note: 12-11 sermon note)
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.
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;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a lawyer who ran a stop sign and got pulled over by a small town sheriff while traveling in unfamiliar territory. The lawyer thought for a minute and decided that he could talk his way out of a ticket. After all, he assumed that he must be much better educated than the southern sheriff. The sheriff asked for license and registration. The lawyer responded, “What for?” The sheriff resplied, “You didn’t come to a complete stop at the stop sign back there.” The lawyer said, “I slowed down and no one was coming.” “You still didn’t come to a complete stop. License and registration please,” said the sheriff impatiently. The lawyer said, “If you can show me the legal difference between slow down and stop, I’ll give you my license and registration and you can give me the ticket. If not, you let me go and don’t give me the ticket.” The sheriff said, “That sounds fair, please exit your vehicle.” The lawyer stepped out of his car and the sheriff started beating him with his nightstick. The sheriff said, “Do you want me to stop or just slow down?” The lawyer yelled out, “Please stop!” He then complained that they never taught him anything like that at Harvard Law School. The sheriff said, “You should have gone to Yale, like me.”
And that is affectionately known as “southern justice!” A whippersnapper lawyer burning through life and believing he was above the law, or at least that he could somehow manipulate the law to always work in his favor. And then boom, he crashes into a little southern practicality that puts a different spin on things. “Don’t try to outsmart me with your clever ways, Mr. Lawyer. I can be equally clever too!” And from the sound of it, the sheriff had no problem dealing just as cleverly with the lawyer as the lawyer was with him. Except his cleverness had some actual substance to it. It wasn’t all just smoke and mirrors like the lawyer’s. No, the sheriff’s justice had some real-world applicability. The lawyer’s body was at stake in how he distinguished between slow down and stop!
I see a lot of similarities between “southern justice” and God’s justice. God’s justice isn’t simply clever wordplay. God’s justice is about righteousness…about reestablishing proper order and balance. Unlike that lawyer’s sense of justice, God’s justice doesn’t necessarily stand to benefit God. That lawyer stood to get out of his stop sign violation ticket in bargaining with the sheriff. The sheriff, on the other hand, was completely unaffected by how the lawyer distinguished between “slow down” and “stop.” So, too, it is with God. God isn’t affected by the justice He hands out, only we are affected by it. All of God’s creation is affected by God’s justice.
Just listen to the justice bestowed by Isaiah’s servant from today’s reading. He establishes a covenant with all of us, he is a light to all of us, he opens the eyes of the blind among us, he sets free those who are imprisoned in darkness. WE only stand to benefit from the servant’s justice, not him at all! And we stand to benefit very practically…bodily! Our sight is returned, we can see where we’re going, God promises to be with us wherever we go! We are not alone, wandering aimlessly through life without purpose or direction! Yes, God is with us, guiding us, sustaining us, nurturing us. We…are…not…alone! The title “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us,” was given to the servant that Isaiah foretold of, the servant that we believe was embodied by Jesus himself.
Isaiah was prophesying to a people in exile, to a people who had lost hope and direction, to people who felt abandoned by God. They needed to be assured that God would somebody come back to them as a servant, as someone who could give them hope and encouragement and support and guidance. God came to them, and us, in the form of a child. In just a few weeks, we’ll be celebrating yet again the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We’ll be celebrating God being with us. We are not alone, hopeless and without guidance. We need to hear this now more than ever after a couple years of pandemic uncertainty. There was a great darkness that descended upon our land in those two years. Fear got a hold of us and sure didn’t want to let us go. Somehow, by the grace of God, it did slowly but surely loosen its grip on us. Though the pandemic continues on, the fear surrounding it appears to have lost its power and what a gift that is! God is good! God doesn’t want us to live in fear! God will work wonders to free us from the power of fear! God will bring justice to free us from fear!
Notice the work of the servant in Isaiah’s passage is about defeating darkness through light and the restoration of sight. Now fear and darkness go hand in hand so ultimately God’s justice serves to defeat fear. It’s not simply coincidental that we celebrate the birth of Christ during the darkest time of the year. He is the light of the world, conquering the darkest of darkness, conquering fear and doubt and sorrow and despair. Proverbs says, “when justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but dismay to evildoers.” (21:15) Evildoers dwell in the darkness and fear. Justice defeats darkness and fear. Justice brings joy and light into the world. Justice itself brings order and righteousness and balance.
God’s justice is most definitely akin to “southern justice!” I mean, who doesn’t stand to benefit from a smarmy lawyer getting beat up by a righteous sheriff?! Isaiah foretold of God’s justice coming through a servant who would defeat the darkness and fear of this world. Jesus does a pretty good job of doing just that. Just look at all the lights of the world reflecting his light! As we continue to wait for the coming of Christ, let us give thanks for the justice that comes with him. The prophet Hosea says, “but as for you, return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” (12:6) God’s justice only stands to benefit us. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.