Wednesday, 16 Dec 2020
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”
The words of Isaiah 42 familiar to Christians because they are quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:18-19, where he connects his own mission to the promise of
Isaiah to liberate captives. It is the central message of the gospel, a vision of hope, that through his servant, God promises to liberate those who are afflicted, the poor, the oppressed, prisoners, and people with disability.
In Isaiah 42 the Spirit anoints the Messiah, who is described in ways reminiscent of disability, as a bruised reed who will not break. He is imbued with saving power. The saving Messiah is not a famous powerful king (a rich and powerful white saviour), but a captive servant, whose smouldering wick has not been snuffed out despite unjust oppression.
The visionary call of Isaiah 42 is for the powerless and oppressed to look to the Messiah, not only for their own liberation, but to see their role as liberators of others. It is a vision that moves a person from being a passive object needing salvation to becoming an agent of salvation (a light to Gentiles, a saviour to captives).
I grew up in a wealthy Pentecostal church that encouraged me to think of myself as a world changer, a mini Christ, a saviour and healer of the blind and the lame and the poor. In reality, I did not do much saving or healing, and then aged forty — seemingly at the height of my powers — spinal cord injury humbled me, making plain the truth of my vulnerability, dependency, and need of help.
The promise of Advent is that the spirit will help me in my vulnerability. And because I now know what it means to be bruised and broken, the spirit also lays on me a vision of hope; that I can follow Christ as an agent of liberation. I am not a liberator because I’m powerful, but because I’m vulnerable and weak. Christ the bruised reed uses broken people as healers.
As we think of the Messiah on the journey to Christmas, may we all accept our insignificance (like that of a baby born in a manger), as well as our potential to be agents of liberation.
Shane Clifton is Professor of theology and ethics, honorary associate at the Centre For Disability Research And Policy at the University of Sydney. Shane is a C5 quadriplegic.