Advent preparation has taken on a whole new meaning for me this year as I get ready to move 1400 miles away from the state that has been home for the last six years. On a daily basis I’m asking myself what I really need or want to pack. It’s this question of what is essential that I hear echoes of throughout the texts this week.
The beautiful, comforting words of Isaiah create a picture of a time when justice and integrity will prevail. This is good news for those who are poor, have a broken heart, are held captive, are imprisoned, or are mourning. Joy, deliverance, and justice will rule the day. These words must have brought hope to a captive people. This promise from God of a new day, a day of restoration and integrity, must have been welcomed news when first proclaimed.
This passage speaks to what is essential even thousands of years later. When I have preached such passages in the past, there is always at least one person who asks why Isaiah’s prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled yet. The person will inevitably point out that if Jesus was the one who would make this happen, then he obviously did not. And why not?
It’s an excellent question that does not have a simple answer. I do believe that Jesus is the one about whom Isaiah prophesied. I do believe Jesus revealed the way to bring about fulfillment of the ancient promises. Everything Jesus did, the way he treated the people he encountered, the way he died, was to show us what was essential to living a holy life. So why is the world not a better place? Why do we still have pain and suffering, sin and oppression? Why do we not have nations that are trees of integrity?
God may love justice and hate robbery and sin, but we as individuals and nations find justice, liberation, and rebuilding to be really difficult. It’s easier to do what we want and take what we want and think that others somehow deserve less. When it comes right down to it, if we want the world to be a place of justice and mercy, we need to actively seek justice, show mercy, live a life of loving-kindness. It’s entirely possible. It’s not easy but it is possible;Jesus has already shown us the way.
Since this Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent and traditionally the Sunday of Joy, you may be wondering where the joy is in all of this. We were promised life in God that brings good news to the poor, healing for those with broken hearts, release for those held captive, and liberation for those in prison. Countless people around the world are desperately in need of these things so what’s to be joyful about?
Life in Christ means we are not alone in bearing the responsibility. In Christ we have community to remind us that integrity and justice is worth the effort to turn away from sin. In Christ we are not left alone to bear the full weight of all that is wrong in our world. When we live in Christ, it is possible to rejoice and give thanks because we know that love is stronger than any evil. We can rejoice knowing that God loved humanity and all of creation enough, to send Jesus to prove (among other things) that it is possible for human beings to embody divine love.
This is the joy-filled good news. It also challenges us to figure out what is essential to Christian faith right now and what needs to be discarded. It is not too late for those trees of integrity to take root and to flourish.
May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness. May you be preserved whole and complete—spirit, soul, and body—at the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is trustworthy: God will make sure it comes to pass.
RCL – Year B – Third Sunday of Advent – December 14, 2014
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46-55
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Tree image from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.