Thursday, 23 January 2014

Darkness, light and the Servant Messiah

The first Christians, in the light of the Easter events, shared their stories with one another. And as they did so, they looked back into their scriptures to try and make sense of this new narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection. As they looked into what we now call the Old Testament, key texts emerged for them, and they began to develop themes and chains of texts.
For these early disciples, the whole of Isaiah was rich pickings. One of the dominant texts, inevitably, was that of darkness, light, and the Servant Messiah, and it’s this that is the theme of this blog.

DARKNESS: Throughout the book, darkness and the associated theme of blindness speak of
  • sin and injustice, corporate, individual, committed against the people of God, committed by the people of God. Ah, you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! [Isaiah 5.20]
  • rebellion: And he said, ‘Go and say to this people: “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.” Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.’ [Isaiah 6.9-10]
  • judgment, separation, exile and chaos. Those who consult the dead rather than the living - They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry; when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will curse their king and their gods. They will turn their faces upwards, or they will look to the earth, but will see only distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be thrust into thick darkness. [Isaiah 8.21f] Similarly in 13.10 on the Day of the Lord, the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. Everything is out of joint - The time is out of joint; O cursed spite, says Hamlet, That ever I was born to set it right!
By the time we get to Isaiah 59.9-15, we are rapidly approaching the answer to the challenge and conundrum of darkness. In 59 we are shown the sheer human impossibility [picked up by Shakespeare in the tragedy of Hamlet] of setting it right by ourselves. The best we can do, even after the restoration from exile is that
  • we grope like the blind along a wall
  • like doves we moan mournfully
  • we wait for justice but there is none, for salvation, but it is far from us…

LIGHT: And so we turn, with the prophet, to the coming light. Having established that the human way forward is a dead end, chs. 60-62 take us to the sovereign solution of a redeeming God, expanding on the phrase his own arm brought him victory of 59.16:
God will save his people; he will give light to them: the light of his glory, the glory that Moses asked to see in Exodus 33, the glory of which the seraphs sang in Isaiah’s own vision, the light of his presence, of his self-disclosure. Your sun shall no more go down, or your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. 60.20
But even more extraordinary than the glorious presence of a sovereign God is the fact that this glory spills over. He will share his glory with them. Isaiah is able to say that Zion will be radiant – in the reflected glory [60.5] and, wonderfully in v.7, God says I will glorify my glorious house!

THE SOURCE OF LIGHT: Light's only source is the Servant-Messiah: And this is what holds it all together for the first Christians: the one who self-identified as Servant is the Light-bringer, as Anointed one – Messiah – through whom the darkness will be dispelled, the glory of God made present, and this glory reflected in and through us: All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. [2 Corinthians 3]

Three of the gospel writers  give us hints as to how the church will respond to the abiding presence of his Epiphany. For Matthew it is overwhelming joy, and abandoned, or self-abandoning worship and homage. For Luke it shown by the shepherds’ glorifying and praising of God, Mary’s treasuring of these words in her heart, and Simeon’s I have seen it all now but also his prophetic insight into the battle royal between the light and darkness that is still to come.
John in his gospel gives us the response of a measured, thoughtful philosophizing song that from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. And for us?
Well for us, whether in the season of Epiphany or at any other time, it must surely be:
Unrestrained celebration – dance it like Miriam…
Submissive prostration – honour and adore him like the woman in Simon the Pharisee’s house…
Unfettered proclamation – shout it like blind Bartimaeus, or the man born blind in John 9…
And in the times when the darkness threatens to crowd in again, we are daily called to rehearse the great Epiphany truth that the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not…

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