We continue in our theme of Faith in God’s Promises, this third Sunday of Advent. Isaiah 42 fits better in the traditional view of Advent then last week’s reading from Esther. Here, the LORD promises to send a servant, whom we identify as the messiah. God promises to establish justice (mishpat) through this servant, though not for Israel only, but for the whole world.
Waiting for the Servant
As said before, Advent is the season of waiting. Habakkuk was impatiently waiting for God to establish justice and peace as God had promised. Here in Isaiah, that promise comes more into focus. We now know who will fulfill the promise: the Servant. Who is this servant? Scholars aren’t in full agreement on this one. Some say this is Cyrus the “Great,” who will soon allow the Jewish exiles to return home. Others say that the servant is the people of Israel, that priestly nation through whom God will bless the whole world. Still others identify the servant with the Messiah, whom we know as Jesus of Nazareth. Frankly, it could be all three (though Cyrus doesn’t match the following description).
But, what will this servant do? The servant will “bring forth” and “establish” mishpat, the Hebrew term for “justice.” How will this servant act? He will act quietly, not making a scene or gathering a crowd (v. 2). He will act gently, so gently that he won’t break a plant stem that had already been bruised (v. 3a). And, he will act deliberately, so that the breeze of his passing wouldn’t blow out a feeble flame (v. 3b).
The Promise of Mishpat
Let’s start out first with getting a better grasp on the justice God is promising here. In Scripture, mishpat (justice) is not just about punishment for wrongdoing, as we so often use the term. It goes much deeper than that. Mishpat is about re-forming society and the whole world to the way they are supposed to be. All relationships between God, humans, and the world would be based on love and care. In a world ruled by God’s justice, there would be no poverty, no illness, no oppression, no violence. Establishing mishpat brings about shalom, God’s peace. I do not believe you can separate mishpat and shalom; they are different facets of the same jewel.
Mishpat and Shalom
How can someone who is quiet, gentle, and deliberate (v. 2-3) bring about justice in a world that is based on injustice? Doesn’t that require a revolution, upsetting how everything is done? It does. However, justice and peace cannot be established through violence. When you try, you lose the essence of both justice and peace. No, this revolution must be accomplished through non-violence. Justice must be founded on love, service, and self-sacrifice. And, love cannot come through force. Love, service, and self-sacrifice? Sounds like a certain Messiah I know.
One way to compare some expectations for the promised messiah with what Isaiah says in this passage in our free activity, “What Kind of Messiah?” This activity is written for our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th) product, but this activity can be easily used in older and cross+generational settings as well.
Being the Servant
As we are waiting for God’s Servant to come and establish the justice our world so desperately needs, God expects us to act. We believe Jesus is the promised Servant, but we are called to be the Body of Christ in the world. It is our mission to bring mishpat where we can through acts of love and by standing up against injustice. Let us be of the same mind as Jesus and act as he would act. However, we must still wait for Jesus to return, establishing justice for the whole world.
Come, thou long expected Jesus!
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
Advent is here, but it’s not too late to order faith formation resources! If you had ordered Fall Living the Word resources or are interested in just getting started, order your Winter resources now, which start on the first Sunday of Advent and go to Transfiguration Sunday. As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the Winter (and Spring) quarters immediately and start using them!
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!