Surely Isaiah is talking about a different year. Because this can’t be “the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God”. Can it?
But what would happen if such a year were to break upon us? What would the reaction be if all these things that Isaiah lists were to start to happen? Would our established norms and mores and rules about being “civilized” withstand the onslaught of the Kingdom?
ANd what is the good new to the poor and oppressed? Who is that bad news for (Because the way of the world seems to be that good news for one is bad news for someone else)?
The passage for this third Sunday of Advent (does that make it Joy Sunday in your context?) is Isaiah 61:1-11.
Text this week resources for the passage are here, you may also find it useful to look at their resources dealing with Luke 4:14-31, which are in two sections: 14-21 and 21-30. Because after all, Luke uses these words from Isaiah to launch the public ministry of some fellow named Jesus of Nazareth (which opens some preaching doors, but may blind us to other potential sermonic directions — can we read Isaiah as the words of Isaiah [about the Servant, as Paul Hanson points out in the Interpretation commentary] without seeing them as automatically and only about Jesus?)
So where does the passage lead you? Years ago I was told that the “year of the Lord’s favor” referred to the Jubilee year. but in reading about the Sabbath year in Deuteronomy and the Jubilee year in Leviticus in comparison to these words from Isaiah there are few, if any, direct correlations. And yet I can’t help but think that if the debt-cancelling and slave-freeing and land-returning regulations of Sabbath and Jubilee years were suddenly implemented that would indeed be good news to the poor, would bind many broken hearts, would bring liberty and release to many oppressed and captive people.
Part of me wants to focus on the words of comfort in this passage. Reading my newsfeeds on a regular basis leads me to think that we could use more garlands and gladness, less ashes and mourning, less devastation and more rebuilding. But then I realize that to get to there we may need to turn the world upside down, change not only the rules but the whole game. We need the radical power of Jubilee.
As we process further into Advent, as the time of delivery draws near, as the birthpangs maybe are starting to be felt (though maybe they are only Braxton-Hicks contractions?) are we ready for the year of God’s favor to begin? Jesus, Emmanuel, the one we know as Christ and Messiah is about to be born. Luke will show us his birth presaged by Mary’s song of turning the world on its head. Luke will show us an adult Jesus who pairs words of blessing with words of woe, who points out that in the Kingdom of God the rules will be very different, who has the audacity to take these words of Isaiah and say they are about the work he is about to do.
What is about to be born?
Are we ready? Then again is anyone ever truly prepared for birth?
If the Spirit of the Lord is upon you, where is it leading (dragging?) you this week?
Gord Waldie is an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Canada, currently in Northwestern Alberta. He shares his life with his partner and their four daughters and blogs (periodically) at Following Frodo or shares his “churchy-stuff” at Ministerial Mutterings
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