Sermon :: December 17, 2017 :: Advent 3 B
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1The 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;
2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3to 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.
4They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
8For I the Lord love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
9Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
In my experience, there are two types of people: people who make lists and people who don’t make lists. We have free spirits and we have focused spirits. We don’t often have both at the same time. Me, I’m decidedly not a list maker, although I’ve had to learn to become one. It doesn’t come easy for me – I need to write it down immediately or I forget to do it. In times of busyness, such as, I don’t know, the end of a semester and a week before Christmas, it has been both a pain in my neck and the main reason I’m not in a paper-writing induced coma at the moment. While I prefer to be a free spirit, I can be a focused spirit for a while as a coping mechanism for stress and busyness. Because of how much I’ve concentrated on it, when I read the Isaiah lesson this week, I see a list.
This list is a list of all the things that mark a person following God’s call on their life: bring good news, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty and release and the Lord’s favor, build up, and repair. It almost reads like a really compassionate constructions job, doesn’t it? In fact, I would say that is a pretty apt description of God in this text. God is the one who sends the prophet to do these things and, in fact, this is what God is doing. Through the prophet, God is doing all of this. God is clothing people in righteousness. God is bringing forth righteousness and praise from the nations like the shoots of young plants. God is coming in justice and splendor and love to comfort the grieving, lift up the fallen, bind up the broken, and encourage the discouraged.
We trust that God is doing this, that this anointed list is being completed, because God has come already. God is here, clothed in splendor, even when it looks like rags and clothes swaddling an infant baby. God is here, comforting the devastated, even when it means he will be devastated himself. God is here and yet we continue to wait for God to come. Our reading in Isaiah is a list of promises God is keeping and will keep and we see that list being done in the person of Christ. Good news, being show in healing, love, forgiveness, and life that has the victory over death.
But we also trust this because it is more than simply a one-and-done sort of thing. Christ’s victory over death gives eternal life now, but one look at the news tells you that things are far from perfect. The brokenhearted are told to pick themselves up. The oppressed are told to be silent. The captives receive more years instead of more support. Instead of oaks of righteousness, we sometimes see the wild grapes of Isaiah 9. But, throughout all of this, God is still working. God is not done yet. Just like roses begin to sprout beneath the snow, so does the kingdom of God sprout in the midst of chaos, despair, brokenness, sin, and grief.
And that, my friends, is where you come in. Because God has called you, God has adopted you, and God’s love has been made known to you. In the words of Jesus in Luke 9, when he preaches on this text in the synagogue, “this has been fulfilled in your hearing.” God’s grace is for you. The good news of Jesus Christ is your good news – death has been swallowed up, you are no longer defined by your worst mistakes, and you are adopted as a beloved child of God. And, in the family of God, we follow in our Creator’s path.
The Holy Spirit, witnessed in the mystery of baptism and poured out on the day of Pentecost, has anointed you. It has equipped you, called you, and chosen you to be a bearer of good news, a proclaimer of liberty, and a comforter. You are sent with the gifts of God and you bear the image of God out into a world which is hurting and waiting for help. You are the voice by which good news is proclaimed. Yours are the hands which God uses to bind up the broken hearted. Your shoulders are the ones which bear the burdens of others and, when you cannot bear them anymore, you are carried by God through the people around you to rest, to safety, and to healing. This is what we are called to do, even though we may not always remember to do it.
Like John the Baptist, we are witnesses to both the world’s need and God’s saving and creative power. We point to what God is doing and join in that work, participating and imagining what that blessed kingdom looks like in our midst. And how does it look? Well, we have a list don’t we. In a world where we are usually either a free spirit or a focused spirit, God’s Holy Spirit, it seems, can be both. It is free for all and focused on the life-giving work of God in the world.
Where have you witnessed good news for the oppressed? God is there. Where have you seen the brokenhearted be embraced and cared for? God is there. Where have the captives and prisoners been given forgiveness and freedom? You’ll see God there. Where are the mourning comforted, the ruins and devastations of humanity built up, and justice practiced? That is where you will see God. In a manger, in a beat up, broken city, in the cold of winter, the new shoots of God are growing. All we can do is wait. Wait for the spring. Wait for God’s kingdom to grow in our world. Wait for God’s justice and love to be made known. And, while we wait, we are the means by which God brings it about.
So wait and build up. Wait and proclaim. Wait and bring good news. A child is coming. The spirit of the Lord is upon you. So wait and act. Amen.