Summary: The prophet Isaiah speaks of one who comes to bring good news to the oppressed. God gives us eyes to see hope in the midst of darkness.
3 Advent B Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11 15 December 2002
Rev. Roger Haugen
Christmas is a time of images. We so easily create mind pictures of gentle snow and evergreen trees. We imagine presents under decorated Christmas tree, good food whose smell invites us to taste and enjoy. We think of angels and wisemen, children and pageants, parties and good cheer, a newborn in a manger, memories of Christmases past, spent with dear ones. Family gatherings and trips to be near ones we haven’t seen for some time.
These images, as much as we delight in them, are not images that fill the minds of many people. To some, their days are filled with images of the oppression of a life of poverty or addiction. To some the images that fill their minds are ones of being brokenhearted, captive to forces over which they have no control, mourning over losses that dominate their lives. To some who have never heard a positive word of praise are left with a faint spirit. These are the captivities of many people, including ourselves.
The wonderful images in our own minds are sometimes clouded by oppresive realities in our lives as well. It is hard to find delight when captivated by fear over personal illness or that of a loved one. It is not easy to be as excited as the children when we feel more broken than whole.
The audience for this Advent text from Isaiah are afflicted, they are the brokenhearted, the captives, in prison, the mourners. Their lives are devastated. In short, your average December congregation. As we read the text we see faces and hear names – oppressed, brokenhearted, captives, those who mourn.
Today’s lesson from Isaiah paints a myriad of images. Images that also can come alive with hope and anticipation. It speaks of good news, binding up, release, proclamation of good news, gladness and praise. Promises that are happening even now. These are images of hope. These images are attached to the images of oppression, prison, captivity and mourning.
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;
To comfort all who mourn.
The mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
To those caught in the first half of these word pairs, the prophet points out the other part of the word pair as God’s reality, God’s hope. Hope is given substance in a time filled with images that are often so much fluff. Images of despair that can so easily drown us give way to images of hope and anticipation. We know that things are not as they seem, if seen through eyes given sight by the promises of God.
When we find ourselves in the group oppressed and captive to so much, we are given words of hope and deliverance. One is coming who promises to turn our mourning into gladness, one who brings the “mantle of praise” to lift our faint spirit. The one to be born brings with him a new way to look at life. Not a view that ignores realities of pain and mourning but one who helps us see with new eyes.
This is the passage that Jesus uses in Luke as he sets out on his ministry. The reading of this passage in Advent prepares us to receive the one who comes with such liberation for all of us. As we prepare the way of the Lord, we are prepared to see in ourselves our need of deliverance, our need of hope, our need of being set free. We can expect God to do great things in our lives and he does. He has been anointed to touch all people, to reach all in need, to give strength when strength is needed. Here is our Advent hope.
This is the one who had come among us bringing hope if we are willing to see through new eyes. Hope that comes to all in distress showing the other side of reality, God’s reality. The reality that allows a pregnant unwed mother to see in her circumstances the activity of God. Hope that has led a group of wandering peasants to know they are the chosen people of God.
And so we hear words of hope today. “The Lord God has appointed me to bring good news to the afflicted.” Visions of freedom to everyone in need. Hope for those suffering physical impairment or ill health. “To bind up the brokenhearted”. To help those who are grieving to know hope in the midst of the pain and grief because one has come amongst them who has broken the power of death.