January 7, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Isaiah 43:1-7 (NRSV)
Thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth–
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
From continuing COVID surges to political turmoil to long-term questions about justice and righteousness, it may seem to you that we are well acquainted with the rivers of woe. Have faith. The Lord Jesus Christ will be with us in the water, and we will not drown.
Two days ago on January 6, 2022, Christians around the world celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany. This is one of the oldest Christian feasts; we have evidence that it was being celebrated perhaps as early as the 200s. In the West it’s usually associated with the visitation of the Magi to the Christ Child (Matthew 2:1-12), and before it became a widespread custom to exchange gifts on Christmas Day, they were often exchanged on Epiphany, since the Magi had given gifts to Jesus.
More broadly, the feast honors Christ’s manifestation (that’s the meaning of the word “epiphany”) to the Gentiles—a group that includes the majority of Life for Leaders readers—and, in my Anglican tradition, it begins a series of weeks where we read and think about Christ’s public ministry and how it manifested his glory.
The first Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany is always celebrated as the Baptism of the Lord. We’ll look tomorrow at Jesus’s actual baptism, as it’s described in Luke’s narrative; today we pause for a moment to look at the Old Testament reading assigned for this coming Sunday.
Like the Old Testament reading for the first Sunday after Christmas Day, which I wrote you about several weeks ago, this reading is from Isaiah, and like that reading, it is a beautiful statement of God’s love for us. It’s part of a lengthy picture of God’s ultimate restoration of his people that stretches from Isaiah 40:1 through Isaiah 44:8, promising comfort, blessing, ransom from oppression, and a servant to defend and protect us. Christians have historically identified the prophecy of that servant to be pointing to Jesus Christ.
This particular passage from Isaiah 43 may sound familiar to you because it’s one of the passages used as the basis for the famous old hymn “How Firm a Foundation.” We don’t know who wrote that hymn—all that we know is that it appeared in a 1787 book edited by John Rippon called A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors. Nevertheless, its promise that God will be with us in even the darkest of times—when the rivers of woe and the fieriest of trials threaten to overwhelm us—has sustained many believers since it was first written.
I can’t think of a better passage to start off the season after Epiphany with. From continuing COVID surges to political turmoil to long-term questions about justice and righteousness, it may seem to you that we are well acquainted with the rivers of woe. Have faith. The Lord Jesus Christ will be with us in the water, and we will not drown. He will call our name, and he will bring us home.
What rivers of woe are troubling you right now?
Where do you see God walking with you in the fire?
Listen to this version of “How Firm a Foundation” as it might have been performed in the early 19th century. (Lyrics are here.) Pour out your heart to the Lord about wherever you might need his help.
Lord, call me by name, lead me through the fire and the water, and bring me to your loving embrace. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 1-2)
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
Click here to view Jennifer’s profile.