Today’s scripture opens with a focus on Isaiah’s “servant” - the light to the nations; the light then moves to John the Baptist and his testimony about Jesus and finally that light comes to rest on us, both as church and as individual witnesses to the light of Christ.
The prophet Isaiah is dominant in our liturgical readings as we begin our new year. This week we hear God's promise: "I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." And next week we will discover the promise fulfilled: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone."
John the Baptist also has a prominent place during these weeks: in last week's reading, John protested his unworthiness at the baptism of Jesus - this week he boldly proclaims: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." Finally, next week, we will see John arrested - his mission fulfilled.
Though Luke and Matthew have a voice from heaven affirming Jesus as “the beloved Son,” today’s epiphany is different - it comes through the human voice of the Baptist. John was a forthright, outspoken prophet, but also quite vulnerable. The Baptist’s voice gives rich testimony to Jesus’ identity. He tells us that Jesus is the Lamb of God who “takes away the sin of the world; the one who ranks ahead of John; the one upon whom the Spirit came and remained and Jesus. John also tells us Jesus is the one who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit” and is “the Son of God.” The voice of God identifies Jesus in Matthew and Luke; but in the Gospel of John, the Baptist is the clear witness to him for us today. This Gospel has turned our attention to human witnesses, those who are lights in the world, who speak and act out of their own faith experience and thus give witness to Jesus’ identity.
At the heart of John’s Gospel is the incarnation: the union of the divine and human in Jesus. Salvation is thus possible because the divine light has entered human life and, as a result, new life exists for us. Belief is the "light" that gives us entry into this new life.
It is difficult for us to be "lights" in our broken world. There is no voice from heaven, no visible parting of the heavens, no appearance of a dove — just the example of the Baptist, whose life of forgiveness, compassion, and perseverance show the fingerprint of God’s transforming Spirit. Our witness to Christ exposes our own vulnerability - our own need to have our sin be taken away.
And it’s not just the sins we need taken away. It’s deeper than that; our human nature is fragile, and on our own we make so many of the wrong choices.
There is so much darkness in our world: the threat of war in Iraq/Iran, the fiery devastation of the Amazon and Australia, the plight of refugees, the rise of gun violence in our country that seems to raise the specter of death or deaths every day; the constant reminders of the potential for terror that lurks just below the surface of our daily lives... There are still thousands who are homeless and jobless in the face of the general prosperity that abounds in our country; and thousands are still dying of starvation and genocide in the Southern Arabian Peninsula, northern Africa and Southeast Asia. And most disheartening, the rising polarity of our Church's leadership and the never-ending political divisions of our nation's leaders and of our country as a whole.
Yes, there is plenty of darkness around us and it touches all of us. Yet, into this darkness comes the promise of Light.
In a culture that is increasingly more fragmented and torn apart, giving ourselves over into His hands, learning to "see" Christ as the Baptist saw Him, to find God in our daily lives and to truly live as a witness to Him is no easy feat. It is only when we acknowledge the touch of the Spirit, testify to it and allow it to transform our lives that the words of Isaiah can become a concrete reality in this world - only then can we carry "the Light" to the nations and proclaim "Behold the Lamb of God."