Canon Jim Irvinethe penultimate WORD

February 1999
 "…a bruised reed he will not break,

and a dimly burning wick he will not quench…"


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican


The ordinary and the common provide us with the most wonderful glimpse of ourselves… and of God.

Isaiah was blessed with an extraordinary insight: a bruised reed, and a dimly burning wick. Odd examples, but examples with which few are unfamiliar.

In the very midst of the polished cutlery and the gleaming crystal, the smallest detail out of place can mar the perfect setting. It is that way today, and it ever was.

The centerpiece of a welcoming table, decorated with carnations, or perhaps roses, is framed with lacy greenery. But there, amid the long stems is a blossom, its stem crushed, feebly supported by those surrounding it. Our initial reaction is to reach for the flower and withdraw it from the spray. Perhaps the blossom can be salvaged. Scissors will be sought, the stem cut, and a small bowl with water provided to support the bloom. But it will find its place elsewhere.

The candles lighted and having begun to burn, the watchful eye takes note that one wick is not supporting its flame. Burning dimly, it smoulders while the other candles gain strength and shed light refracting on the china and the cut crystal. The smoking, smouldering candle will be removed. It will find its place as an emergency candle, to be sought out in the event of power failure during a late winter storm. But for now, it will not share the company and the joy of the table.

Conventional wisdom holds such last minute gestures to be reasonable and completely understandable. If things aren’t right, if they are flawed, then they are excluded. They are disposed of.

Isaiah may not have known the china and the crystal. He may not have known the mahogany table, or the Irish linen table cloth. But he was acquainted with bruised reeds. And he knew what was likely to happen to smouldering wicks. And in that, he recognized the redemptive nature of God contrasted with the conventional wisdom of the age.

Not discarded, not excluded, the bruised reed was strengthened, made whole, restored, rescued… saved! And God’s glory and majesty was seen beyond the bloom. In its need, God’s grace was manifested and meaning and purpose was regained.

Not discarded, not excluded, the smouldering wick was pared and retained, made whole, restored, rescued… saved! And God’s glory and majesty was seen in the completion of the work intended for the candle.

So it was with Jesus. In the Garden, afraid but obedient, Jesus’ intimate words with the Father echo this. "I have glorified you," Jesus says in his prayer, "by completing the work you have given me to do." Not simply in the beginning of a ministry that redeemed otherwise bruised and smouldering lives. But in the brokenness that Jesus took upon himself in mirroring us in our need of God.

And so it is with us. It is not in our goodness that we glorify God, but in our need of God’s redemptive love in our lives. Left to our goodness, happily we claim glory for ourselves. We are self-sufficient and not in need of restoration or rescue. But in our weakness, in our insufficiency we give glory to God.

Qualities otherwise discarded led Jesus to a cross.

And us.

Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine

1999 Series | Festivals of Light

penultimate WORD - Festivals of Light Series | Epiphany

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton