Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks

“Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights. I have put my spirit upon him: he will bring forth justice for the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Isa 42:1-3a).

These words, from the middle section of the Book of Isaiah, imagine a servant of the Lord who comes to bring justice to all peoples. The justice the earth so desperately needs will not come by bold proclamations or shouting in the streets. Justice will infiltrate the land through the gentle work of the servant. 

The prophet envisions a bruised reed, growing in a marsh, whose tender stalk has been damaged and is on the verge of collapsing. But when the servant comes, his movement is so gentle that the bruised reed is not broken. And the prophet imagines a smoldering candle wick whose flame is flickering and about to burn out. But when the servant passes by, brining grace, the movement is so gentle that the dimly-burning wick is not extinguished. 

How different is this prophetic bringer of justice than the typical heroes of our day, whom we invent to champion the weak through muscular superpower. How different from our politicians who lust for self-indulgent power, while pretending they care for others. The Lord’s servant, quietly moving among the weak and broken, brings justice through tender compassion.

So we are not surprised that when God becomes flesh at Christmas that it’s in the form of an infant, coming into the world with ultimate humility and deep vulnerability. The baby in the manger woos us to marvel at the gentleness of God’s breaking into the world in tiny flesh.

In these days we may feel like bruised reeds and dimly burning wicks because of this traumatic year of racism, pandemic, grief, and divisiveness. Jesus comes to us in this season as a humble servant, offering the grace to keep standing, though bruised, the energy to keep the flame alive, though exhausted. 

Thanks be to God for the coming of the Servant of the Lord.

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