Isaiah 43:1-7 & Luke 3:15-22
There is something special about being directly addressed by someone else as “you”. If someone is using “you”, he or she is acknowledging your presence, and is very likely looking right at you, connecting with your eyes. Maybe it is: “You” have done a great job on this test. I love “you”. “You” are my best friend. Thank “you” for helping me shovel the snow. Also, using “you” is a way to indicate a relationship between the two of you, that you matter to that someone and that someone matters to you. Using “you” shows that the content of the interchange is of value to both participants. It matters to you what he or she says, and it matters to him or her how you respond. “You” signals a relationship. Sometimes that relationship is not so warm and fuzzy: “You” hurt my feelings. “You” are mistaken in your political views. I have had enough of “you”. Certainly, being identified as “you” can be either a boost or an attack. This morning we will focus on the boosting part.
Both of our scripture passages today have a focus on you: it is the “you” between God and the people of Israel, the “you” between God and Jesus the carpenter’s son, and the “you” between God and those of us who live at this time and in this place. Isaiah the prophet spoke to a people whose time of exile was ending, a people who at last were going home. The trip was never promised to be a walk in the park, but they would not take the journey alone. The words are terms of endearment, clearly identifying the people of Israel as beloved, or treasured, by God, as cared for, as honored and protected by God. There are promises galore in God’s message.
Listen one more time to God’s words though Isaiah: “I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine. I will be with you and will protect you from harm on the rough patches of the journey, like floods or fires. I am the Lord your God. I am your Savior. You are precious in my sight. You are honored. I love you.” Who does not appreciate being the “you” in that relationship?
God identifies as the redeemer of Israel, a term that was used in Isaiah’s day to describe that relative who was responsible for the well-being of a family member who had fallen on hard times economically, maybe the uncle or nephew who had to sell off his property or even his own freedom. The redeemer paid ransom so that the property or freedom could be restored. A redeemer clearly puts family first. The actions of a redeemer say, “I care about you and your welfare.”
Here God is the redeemer, the one who has put up ransom to free an entire people, restoring them to the land of their ancestors. The words of hope and joy for Israel must have been words of dismay and fear for the nearby nations who are named by Isaiah. Israel has the promise of being redeemed. The other nations are being left to the side. Rabbi David Kimhi cautions us about assuming that God chooses to trade in other nations for Israel’s freedom. Three specific nations to the south are named, Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba. They are actively threatening the powerful Persian empire, perhaps creating enough of a disturbance that the Persian emperor, Cyrus the Great, allows the Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem and their place of worship so he can focus on the problems in the south. Kimhi posits that God uses international politics to bring freedom and redemption to this people who had fallen on hard times, who had been living in exile, their traditional place of worship and their homes and businesses destroyed. God’s redemption of Israel occurs through Cyrus. The redemption of the people of Israel underscores the high value God places on the relationship with this little rag tag group of exiles. The Redeemer says, “You matter. I love you.”
Redeemer is not a strange word for us. We use Redeemer as a title for Jesus, the One who came to redeem us from the natural effects of our sins, to buy us back, reconciling us to God, to paying ransom with his very life because our lives matter, our lives count. And because God loves us. Jesus begins his ministry with the sound of a voice from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” “You”, says God, directly, openly, endearingly, lovingly. “You are my Son. You are the Beloved. I am pleased with you.”
We hear similar words at the time of a baptism right here in this sanctuary. Whether it is an infant, child, youth or adult, the pastor speaks directly to the one being baptized, affirming his or her connection to God: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Child of the covenant, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism. You are Christ’s own forever.” The message is: You matter. You are loved.
These words, whether to a people in exile, to Jesus as he begins his ministry, or to you and I, call us to be cognizant of those around us who generally rarely, if ever, get to hear “you” as a boost. There are people who cross our paths eery day who only hear “you” as a put down or an attack. We know how special it is to be addressed as “you.” Jesus knew it too. He made it his ministry to address those who were left out, ignored, put down or shut up by mainstream society. He sought them out, looked them in the eyes and said to them: “your faith has made you well; you are a child of God, do you want to be made well?” Even you, especially you, always you. You matter and you are loved.
And we should make it our ministry as well. To address others as “you”, boosting their self-image, stroking ruffled feathers, lifting despair, acknowledging pain, loving, and caring. It is not so hard. Instead of rushing past that stranger and disinterestedly mumbling “how ya doing?”, we could try to catch her eyes and look right into them, saying “I hope you have a really good day.” Instead of jumping to conclusions about what the idea of reparations for the sins of slavery and Jim Crow, for the sins of decades of unjust laws and housing regulations, white Americans can be intentional about saying to our Black brothers and sisters, “I want to hear you. You matter. You count. You have much to teach me.” You see, as we make more frequent and better use of “you”, in our interactions with others, we are walking around glistening with the waters of baptism on our faces, dripping down the back of our necks. We are walking wet. We are walking and breathing and doing and going and resting as people who have already been addressed as “you” by God, as people who are loved and cared for; people who are welcomed into the family of Christ, people in whom the Spirit is at work. We are walking wet. We are walking and breathing and doing and going and resting as people who can address others as “you”, as someone who matters, someone who counts, someone who is of value and someone we can have a relationship with. We are walking wet, we are directly connected to God in Christ. We are walking wet, for God says to us: “You are my child. You matter. I love you.”
I invite you to join me in a baptismal prayer: Glory to you, O God: we give you thanks and praise for the new thing you have done in Jesus Christ our Savior. Baptized by John in the Jordan, you anointed him with your Holy Spirit and claimed him as your beloved Son. We give you thanks and praise that by the grace of our baptism, you have claimed us as well and poured out the gifts of your Spirit so that we might be dead to sin and alive to you in Christ Jesus. Continue to pour out your Spirit upon us. Empower us to love and serve you and live as your faithful people, walking wet through all of our days, always bearing witness to the good news of Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.