Kenora 3 Advent
13 December 2020
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
O God of Isaiah and John the Baptist, through all such faithful ones you proclaim the unfolding of future joy and renewed life. Strengthen our hearts to believe your advent promise that we will walk in the way of Christ, whose coming is certain and whose day draws near. Amen.
When we look at the passage from Isaiah, for today, we find that it has a lot of meaning for us, these days, in our dealing with Covid, with the fears and the hopes of a vaccination, with the changes we’re needing to embrace to keep family and loved ones safe over the upcoming Christmas season.
And in today’s passage, we find that Isaiah speaks about:
Bringing good news to the oppressed
Binding up the broken hearted
Proclaiming liberty to captives and release to prisoners
Proclaiming the year of the Lords favour and the day of God’s vengeance.
Comfort to those who mourn, and the list goes on (Isa 61:1-4)
And in the midst of our Covid Pandemic reality, even with the hope and promise of a vaccine on the way, such words are able to bring comfort to us, to our lives, and to our hearts.
It brings the knowledge that our situation isn’t outside of what God sees, and that this is God’s answer.
I remember, a long time ago, now, watching the movie “The Robe.” It’s a classic, filmed in 1953.
The most interesting scene, to me, is a woman who cannot walk, yet she claims she was healed by Christ, and she’s filled with joy at the memory of her encounter. The investigator, a Roman centurion, looks at this with scepticism, but she asserts that before she encountered the love of God, she was bitter about her disability and since then she’s shown the love of God for all in her community.
Jesus, we know, is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy, today. He even says so in Luke 4: 18-21 when he reads the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue, in his home community.
But the telling point, for us, today, isn’t that the community is not ready to hear Jesus’ interpretation of this passage, but it’s how he does this.
Luke’s gospel tells us:“16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written.” (Lk 4:16-17)
Luke tells us that he went looking for this passage to read it in his home community, as they gathered for worship.
“17 …the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written.” (Lk 4:17)
And this is significant for each one of us, today, because it’s always when we least expect to hear it that God’s words of comfort, of liberation, of solace, and of love are offered to each one of us, as we find when we turn to Isaiah’s words, for today.
Just think of your favourite adventure story. In the plotline, it seems that it’s always when it appears that all is lost that such things as 11th hour redemptions, such miraculous solutions, and such declarations of love come forth to shatter all perceptions as they’re revealed.
And sure, in many cases, especially in realms of romantic comedies that the person needs a “wait, what?” moment, but once the combination of happy, confused, angry tears are shed then people are able to hear the words, to realize that this is good news, and this is just what we need to hear, and that in the end, all will be alright, once more.
So, Isaiah tells us, again: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.” (Isa 61:1-4)
Looking at the beginning of today’s passage, Isaiah says “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. …” And I have to say that I’m not the only one whose been anointed for this task.
I’m not the only one who’s anointed and equipped to do this. After all, living out Isaiah’s words is a task, it’s a series of tasks, heck it’s a life long calling to and for each one of us.
So then, not only do we, in the midst of our individual pandemic experiences need to hear these words to strengthen and bind up our own hearts, but if we who know them need to hear them and know it, how much more to those who don’t know this passage need to hear Isaiah’s proclamation, and Jesus reassurance that these words are fulfilled in our hearing.
Which means, we also need to proclaim them, as well.
Jesus might proclaim the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy, in his home synagogue, in Nazareth, but this doesn’t leave us out. It doesn’t leave out the disciples, in fact in many ways, it just confuses the neighbours.
So, that brings the question of how are we able to bring Isaiah’s words to life?
How are we able to step into Jesus shoes (sandals?) and declare boldly in our lives and actions that this prophesy, that these words from Isaiah are fulfilled in the hearing, in the sight of those all around us?
Now we, each of us, knows that we’re not the Messiah, so the entire burden of Isaiah’s proclamation isn’t on each of us, but together we are the body of Christ, so collectively it does sit on us, on the body of Christ.
Which means that together we are able to make a difference in the world all around us, both nearby, and far away.
Some of us are able to bring good news to the oppressed, or to bind up the broken hearted, or even to proclaim liberty to captives. We can do this because to be oppressed, broken hearted, or even captive doesn’t have to be physical. These days it can be those who are weary of the Covid restrictions, but still worry about those who are far away.
Today we discover that all of these conditions are able to exist in our pandemic experience.
So the liberation to lives and hearts that is able to be brought by the fulfillment of these words, whether its through remembering Jesus’ experiences in his home synagogue and recounting that to others, or through our own actions in another’s life, we’re all able to participate in this act of fulfilling the year of the Lord’s favour.
And we have to remember that not all of this proclamation, or bolstering, and encouragement happens for those who feel they are outside of the body of Christ.
Sometimes even within the body, we need to be reminded that Isaiah’s prophesy is fulfilled in our hearing. After all, Jesus proclaimed the fulfillment of these words in the synagogue, in his home community, among those who knew him well.
We all need to recall that with all of the events of this past year, the highs, the lows, the frustrations, the joys and unexpected rewards, we still stand looking at the hope we find in Isaiah’s words, and how that hope buoys us up to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
At the same time, we look at how Jesus embodied this message throughout his own ministry, and we look at how these words from Isaiah have been the underpinning of Jesus encouragement of the apostles and disciples.
So, here we are.
Here we gather, together with all these generations between Isaiah and each of our lives, with the realization that with the coming of the Messiah into the world, these words have life and they have breath.
We realize that Isaiah’s prophesy is fulfilled, not just in the time of Isaiah, who also proclaimed “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”, but we also see it fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus.
We are aware that such realization is lived out in the lives of those in Babylonian exile. It’s lived out in the work of the apostle’s, the disciples. We find them in the underpinnings of the early church, and we find them in our baptismal promises.
We, the body of Christ are also anointed by the spirit of the lord, and we, the body of Christ are appointed to bring these words to fulfillment, in this time of extraordinary circumstances, so that the love of God shines through and brings the hope and love of tomorrow, found in the birth of the Messiah, for all of humanity.
And we can do this, together, because ““The spirit of the Lord God is upon [us],
because the Lord has anointed [us];
[because] he has sent [us]” (Isa 61:1a)
Thanks be to God, now and forever.