In this season of preparation there is also trepidation. I was sitting at Panera Bread’s this week with a person whose life seemed to be falling apart even as they found moments of wisdom and insight. (By the way, I have met a church member every time I have gone there for a cup of coffee. So I may just adopt a corner table, get me a Wi-Fi internet tablet PC, and just camp out there). As we proclaim a “Merry Christmas,” or a “Happy Christmas” in the ancient words of Clement Moore’s poem “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” let us remember that Jesus came into the world to change a world gone mad. He came as LIGHT to those in darkness, as WAY to those straying from the path, as TRUTH to those trapped by a lie, as LIFE to the dying. Jesus came as Messiah for dispossessed people and his cousin John arrived to prepare the people for God’s decision to move into their neighborhood.
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No." Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said,
"I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ " as the prophet Isaiah said (John 1:19-23).
Again this Advent I return us to the prophet Isaiah as he addresses the needs of an exhausted and defeated people returning from exile:
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 proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to 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. (Isaiah 61:1-3).
Hear again the pairings of what Isaiah is saying about what God will do in our future even in the midst of our present condition:
PRESENT CONDITION – FUTURE STORY
oppressed – brought good news
brokenhearted – bound up (made whole)
captives– liberty proclaimed
prisoners – released
mourners – comforted / oil of gladness
ashes of mourning – garland of victory
faint of spirit – mantle of praise
mourners of Zion – oaks of righteousness
God’s people need avenging – the year of the LORD’s favor
The year of the Lord’s favor … a Sabbath year or Jubilee year established in the Torah as a season of restoring slaves to freedom and returning land to the rightful owners. This would be a season where Israel would learn to trust God to be God and not depend on self-interested human machinations.
Later, as Paul proclaimed the Good News of Jesus he reminded the Christians of Rome that they were trapped in the moment, but that God had a plan for their deliverance – and God’s plan is still alive in us.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:18-25).
Again hear in God’s Word our present condition yielding to God’s future story – God’s soon-coming kingdom.
PRESENT CONDITION – FUTURE STORY
present suffering – revealed glory
creation eagerly waits – God’s children revealed
creation subjected to futility – creation set free from decay
bondage and decay – glorious freedom
groaning in labor pains – adoption and redemption
hope frustrated – hope fulfilled
It is because of what is always about to do in history that we reach out in season like this to:
Paint a house with Habitat for Humanity this past week.
Join in helping out at the Food Bank tomorrow morning.
Join in a workday for Friend to Friend – a friend to abused spouses and their children.
Join work teams to Mississippi and Hinton Rural Life Center.
Invite a neighbor or family member to join in this church’s family Christmas celebration this evening.
We stand in the middle of one of the most joyous times of the year. Yet it is also a season of heartache and depression – illness in the family, death of a loved one, one who is not coming home for Christmas, remembering someone who we will not see this year. On a global scale there are wars and rumors of wars, there are still the oppressed and the brokenhearted, the prisoner and the captive. Can’t you hear creation groaning with her labor pain?
And God’s eternal promise is that the oil of gladness, the garland of victory, and the mantle of praise are there for us. God’s glory will be revealed and God’s children will join the Lord of the Dance in victory.
I invite you to ponder your adoption and redemption. With God’s grace you are an oak of righteousness – anointed in the Good News!