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.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And 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.”
Comment: In the Liturgical Calendar, the focus on this early Sunday in January is usually the story of the Epiphany (i.e., the coming of the Magi to Jesus’ birthplace) or the story of the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. In either case, the text is laying the groundwork for what is yet to come . . . the ministry of Jesus and his ultimate crucifixion and resurrection. The texts I have chosen for today relate most primarily to the Baptism, which is considered the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. In Isaiah 42, we are given a glimpse of a figure known as “The Suffering Servant.” One need not believe that this passage is “predictive” of the coming of Jesus, but it is helpful in understanding what the people of Israel were waiting for, hoping for. The Servant is one who is chosen for a special burden. In the passage from Matthew, the Baptism is described with the addition of the remarkable image of God “choosing” and approving Jesus—again, not for glory or privilege but for service.
—What, if anything, do you recall about your own Baptism?
—What elements of the Baptism service at Plymouth are most meaningful to you?
—What does the phrase “Suffering Servant” evoke in you?
—In Isaiah 42:2-3, the Servant is pictured as being extraordinarily gentle. Is there still a place for gentleness in the world? What effect does it usually have?
—Do you believe that you have been “chosen” by God for some particular destiny? If so, what is it?
The Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian