The third week of Advent is also known as the week of Joy. The images here are those reminiscent of the carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing! and similar hymns normally sang this time of year. Our sermon text this week is Isaiah 61.1-11, which is the text Jesus uses in Luke to describe why He has been sent into the world.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, the speaker says. This applies to both Isaiah who has been commissioned by God, and to Jesus who has been baptized, and upon whom the Spirit has descended. This is a different kind of commission. We have seen visions, tongs with burning coals, and even a mantel falling from the sky. Here it is no less than the very Spirit of God that evidences the charge of our speakers.
The charge Isaiah has been given is to give good tidings to the afflicted, and to bind up the brokenhearted. While we enter the second half of Advent, of waiting, and on this Sunday of Joy, we are reminded that there are those who are afflicted and brokenhearted. Among our friends here at Covenant there have been recent great loss and grief; of loved ones and health. These seem incompatible with joy this week. But they remind us that while we are in this life, we wait expectantly for the coming of God in the final deliverance and reconciliation when we together with our friends and loved ones, together in body and health. This is not a morose waiting; a hope of escape, but a trusting and a seeing of God’s work and purpose in the world—to build a planet of loving Lovers who live in and as his image.
To proclaim release to the captives and liberation to the imprisoned. In Isaiah’s day prisons were not places one wanted to be, nor are they today. Physical abuse, threat to life and body from seemingly capricious and arbitrary violence at the hands of other prisoners and jailers alike are moment by moment possibilities. Being released might bring some freedom to move about, but it can’t restore what one has lost—including future economic security and wellbeing. Relationships, even intimate ones are gone forever. The release of our God is different though. When God releases us, he simultaneously restores and reconciles us to himself and to each other. He picks us up, washes us off, lifts are face to his and...smiles.
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor...to comfort all who mourn. The year or the moment of God’s favor, showering out his blessings and reconciliation for his people. Children often jostle to see who can become the apple of their parents’ eyes because it’s nice to have the tender attention of those with power. This might happen too at our work places where we sometimes hear someone labelled a Yes Man, indicating our view that he is currying favor with the boss. These favored places, sought by children and adults alike are manipulated for fleeting benefit from people who will themselves prove to be less than reliable in all cases. But, if we might have the favor of God! This God who says he’s rather bless than curse; that he would rather relent than punish; who is described as having everlasting love for people; and who John tells us, died for whoever might believe—yes this God. If we can have his favor, oh how wonderful that would be!
This is the promise made first here in Isaiah and later Jesus will tell us he is fulfilling this promise by bringing good news, healing, freedom, and comfort not just to Israel, but eventually to all people. No wonder Simeon and Hannah almost explode with joy when they meet the son of Mary in the Temple!
How do we live this reality? The promise of Joel last week is close to becoming reality and for us, it is reality. The Spirit has been poured out and disciples have it. While you and I are not prophets or Jesus, we have the same mission of reconciling people to God, to bring good news, healing, freedom, and comfort to those around us—and we have the Spirit to help. Who can you bless this week?