Thursday, January 6, 2011

What's In a Voice?

Our readings for this week are Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-43, and Matthew 3:13-17. You can read them here.

What's in a voice? I found an amazing answer to that question this week as I perused my favorite news source, There, amidst stories about the NFL playoffs and Baseball Hall of Fame elections, was the story of one of the countless homeless men who roams the streets of Columbus, Ohio. This man, however, had something that set him apart: before falling into addiction, Ted Williams had been a radio announcer, and he still possessed a silky deep voice that literally had the power to stop traffic as he stood beside the road asking for help. As he demonstrated his voice off of an interstate exit ramp, a local news videographer stopped and shot some footage of Williams that took the internet by storm, much as the voice of Susan Boyle did when she unexpectedly blew away the panel of "Britain's Got Talent" with sounds that seemed to belong more to an angel than a plain middle aged woman. Williams' voice appears to be landing him a second chance: the Cleveland Cavaliers, upon seeing the video and hearing his amazing golden tone, have offered him a job in announcing work with their NBA team--a job that could very well help him get off the streets and turn his life around. (You can read the whole article here).

This story resonated with me this week in particular because of the powerful ways voice is at the center of our lectionary readings. Isaiah speaks of a servant whose voice stands in contrast to so many of the ostentatious voices of his world: this voice will not break the wounded, but will bring about justice. God's voice is heard in this passage as well: it is calling God's people in righteousness and declaring God's good intention to do a new thing, to turn things around.

Voices take center stage in the Matthew reading as well: the voice of John the Baptist no longer confidently crying out in the wilderness, but confusedly wondering why Jesus is coming to him to be baptized. In response, we hear Jesus' voice for the first time in the New Testament, a voice of absolute trust and obedience even in this act that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense: "let it be so," Jesus says. A voice that rips open the sky confirms that Jesus has done the right thing in acquiescing to God's strange leadings: God's voice affirming Jesus as God's Son and the one with whom God is well pleased likely became a memory that sustained Jesus during some of the darkest times of his ministry, and that gave him an impetus for the difficult actions that lay before him.

Acts brings us the voice of Peter, seeking to interpret for his audience all of the unusual things that God was bringing to pass around them. Speaking with bold confidence, Peter tells them the great story of what was begun when Jesus came out of Galilee to be baptized: a ministry of healing and help that ended in death, but was made whole in resurrection--a ministry that now belongs also to those who enter the baptismal waters after Christ.

As we move further into this new year and consider the meaning of Jesus' baptism this week and of our own call to baptism as well, it seems like a good time to pay attention to voices--to the voice of God and its call in our life; to the voices God has given us and the ways we are called to exercise those voices in this world; to the voices of those around us questioning and crying out for mercy. That God spoke at Jesus' baptism is a detail all of the Gospels agree upon...what is God speaking over us as we begin this new year as disciples, and what is God calling us to use the gift of our voices to do?

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