A reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah (61:1-4, 8-11)
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
For I the Lord love justice,
This year, during the season of Advent, Monday Matters will focus on readings from the prophet Isaiah, who provides great material for reflection in anticipation of Christmas.
Jesus’ Job Description. And Ours.
If it’s true that you get only one chance to make a first impression, what do you imagine was the impression Jesus made when he read from Isaiah 61? He did so at his first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, a sermon which got mixed reviews, to put it mildly. You may have heard that same reading from Isaiah yesterday (a portion of which is above) on the Third Sunday of Advent.
As a good preacher, Jesus knew how to keep it short, so he didn’t read the whole passage, just the first verses, which he claimed had been fulfilled in his presence, his advent. In fact, as far as we know, the sum total of his sermon was the following: “Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (You can read the whole story in Luke 4.) Would that current preachers (including this author) could model such succinctification.
As we prepare for the arrival of Christ (One week away, folks), in this last full week of the season of expectation called Advent, what kind of Messiah are we expecting? What are we looking for? What clues do we get from this Isaiah reading?
According to Isaiah, the expectation is for one who is anointed to bring good news to the oppressed, healing to the brokenhearted, liberty to captives, release to prisoners, comfort to those who mourn. That is what the Messiah will be about. That is what Christians believe Jesus is about. How does that square with your impressions of Jesus?
We can take that job description literally. In Jesus’ time, as in ours, there were plenty of people who were oppressed, brokenhearted, captive, prisoners. Many people were in mourning. Jesus’ ministry is filled with moments when he brings healing to those situations. And the question for us then becomes how we will continue that work as part of the Jesus movement, as part of the body of Christ.
Our baptismal promises call us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being. Pete Buttigieg, a faithful Episcopalian, gives us a place to start, as he speaks in a movie to be released in January, a movie called The Case for Love. It’s inspired by Presiding Bishop Curry’s focus on the way of love. Secretary Buttigieg notes his many encounters with people who disagree with him wholeheartedly and even treat him with disdain, not uncommon in our current political climate. He says in the movie that he is called to remember that God loves his opponents just as much as God loves him. Keeping that in mind is a good way to begin to fulfill this Isaiah reading.
I’m wondering specifically how we might live into Isaiah’s vision in this Christmas season. There are plenty of opportunities to strive for justice and peace in our broken world. There are great needs for healing. Who do you know who is feeling broken-hearted, who is gripped with grief? The holidays can be especially difficult for those who bear that burden, whether the loss is recent or happened a long time ago. Who do you know who is held captive, by resentment or a sense of injury, by addiction or compulsion, by hatred or fear? Meeting those needs is the work we are given to do as members of the body of Christ, as his hands and feet in the world.
As you ask God to show you ways to be a healing presence, reflect on the wisdom of Howard Thurman, who wrote a poem called The Work of Christmas. Here it is:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
Let this poem guide you in the celebration of this season.