The First Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, St. Peter’s Church, Columbia

“But now thus says the Lord: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’” (Is. 43:1).

Epiphany is the season of revelation: the manifestation of God’s glory in Christ. During the season we’re given stories that reveal the person of Jesus Christ. Last week, our Gospel reading of the visit of the Wise Men to Bethlehem, to worship and adore the Messiah; next week, Christ’s first miracle at Cana in Galilee where (John’s Gospel tells us) Jesus performed his first miracle “and revealed his glory” (Jo. 2:11).

Today we hear the Gospel of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. Once again it is a moment of revelation. The heaven is opened, as St. Luke puts it, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends upon Jesus. There’s a voice from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Lk. 3:22). It’s not only a moment in which Jesus’ glory is revealed, but also the moment that begins his public ministry. It’s the moment of Jesus’ call.

Epiphany teaches us that ministry begins with call, and call begins with the revelation of God’s glory. This is the ancient pattern that goes back at least to the prophets of Israel, if not further to Moses or even to Abraham. It’s at the burning bush that God appears to Moses and calls him to return to Egypt to lead the People of God out of slavery. On Mount Sinai the glory of God is revealed, in fire and smoke and thunder, and God tells Moses, “Go, leave this place… and go to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it’” (Ex. 33:1-2).

In our reading from the prophet Isaiah this morning, we see the same pattern. The words that begin our reading, “But now thus says the Lord” (Is. 43:1) is a form of solemn announcement, an indication that something new is here, a new word from the Lord. God is revealing himself once again. “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Is. 43:3). It’s not a new identity that’s revealed here, God forbid, but a fresh outpouring of the same glory.

As in days of old, when he spoke to Moses, now God speaks to the prophet a new word of call. “I have called you by name, you are mine” (Is. 43:1), he tells him. Once again, God reveals himself and calls his servant to ministry. God claims the one who is called as his own. Isaiah will testify to God’s love and care for his People. He will proclaim that the Lord who is the Savior will redeem and gather his People once again.

The prophecy speaks to a time when the situation is dire. The kingdom of Israel is destroyed; the People have gone into exile: but now a new hope rises. We hear in the prophecy how the People will be ransomed. No price is too high. “I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you” (Is. 43:4). God will gather the exiles once again in the Promised Land. “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you” (Is. 43:5); in fact, God will bring them from the four corners of the earth. Not only is Isaiah being called, but all the peoples of the earth as well, to gather once again from the place of exile.

It’s a marker of this particular prophecy in Isaiah that it’s relentlessly individual, relentlessly personal. “I have called you by name” (Is. 43:1) is an individual address, of one to another. Here God is speaking one on one, as he did to Abraham, as he did to Moses. God spoke to Jesus in this same way, of course, at his baptism, as he began his public ministry.

It’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to hear him speaking this way to us, claiming us for his own. He’s surely calling each of us to ministry, to service in his name. We may not live in Babylon but each of us has a place of exile, a place from which we need to be ransomed and redeemed. Maybe the place of exile is a broken relationship; maybe it’s addiction; maybe it is one of the hurts we have suffered or one that we have inflicted on others.

At the same time, each of us is scattered to the four corners and in need of reconstitution in our own Promised Land. We need to be put back together, and we cannot do it ourselves. Can God give us this gift? Can God reveal himself and address our own need?

These are rhetorical questions, because the answer is, of course he can. In fact he has done so in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Jesus the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us. God has given, not Egypt and Ethiopia, for that would be too small a price, but his only Son as the price of our ransom. God has revealed his glory, and called us to new life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee