(sermon note: 12-13 sermon note)
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 broken-hearted,
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.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;
but you shall be called priests of the Lord,
you shall be named ministers of our God;
you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory.
Because their shame was double,
and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot,
therefore they shall possess a double portion;
everlasting joy shall be theirs.
For I the Lord love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about God who apparently decided one day to check up on the earth and see how things were going. (I know, God knows how things are going ALL the time but go with it!) So God summoned one of his angels. God told the angel to go down to earth and evaluate how humanity was doing. After several months, the angel returned and reported that about 95% of humanity wasn’t really following the idea of being a good person and only 5% were. God was surprised…surely the angel had gotten the report wrong. He decided to send down another angel, you know, get a second opinion. Again, several months passed until finally the angel returned and confirmed what the first angel had said. A little saddened by this, God took it upon himself to personally send words of encouragement to the 5% that were being good people in the form of an email. And do you know what the email said? No? So I guess you didn’t get one either, eh?!
Who knew that GOD kept a “naughty and nice” list too?! Hmm…I’m a little uncomfortable likening God to our good friend, Santa Claus. After all, Santa Claus is primarily focused on bringing nothing but joy and good cheer. God brings so much more than simply joy and good cheer. God brings hope and love and mercy and justice and life to name but a few of his many gifts. Yes, Santa Claus brings little to compare with all that God brings! You and I both know how wrong our world has become in that it treasures Santa Claus’ gifts more than the variety of God’s gifts. But hey, even Jesus was taken aback by the backwardness of the world’s priorities. The world is what it is…a broken world. A world that treasures SANTA CLAUS’ gifts more than God’s…truly a disgrace. But at least we have those 5% who are trying to be good people. We could ALL be bad, selfish people! I guess we do deserve a little of God’s grace after all.
Well, God’s “naughty and nice” list isn’t what correlated to our reading this morning. No, it was the idea that God sent words of encouragement to the good 5%. When I hear that word, “encouragement,” I am drawn to a similar word, “empowerment.” By encouraging others, we are in essence empowering them. We give them the courage and strength to do what needs to be done. Courage and strength are just as important, if not more, as whatever skills we may bestow on others. We can teach each other the skills we need to live long, productive lives but without courage and strength to put those skills to use, they’re ultimately useless. Skills can take us only so far; it’s the courage and strength that keep us going until the very end. We need courage and strength…sheer power…to carry us to the end, my friends. The world is a backwards world. Just when you think you might understand it, or at least a small portion of it, then it’ll likely change. That’s because this world just doesn’t make sense. Remember? It’s a broken world that desperately needs to be fixed. Or does it? Hmm, well, it’s a world that I’m glad to be a part of for only so long. Not that I don’t treasure every minute in this world but it’s a crazy, backwards world. I’ll gladly welcome a world without suffering when that day comes. But getting back to our reading…
In the opening verses of our reading, we hear similarly encouraging and empowering words. The prophet Isaiah declared, “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.” Isaiah’s words are strong words of self-encouragement and self-empowerment. God had definitely given him a clear mission and a clear purpose! No doubting what God wants him to do! Of course, they’re words of purpose and mission that were picked up by Jesus over 700 years later as we hear him use in Luke 4. They may have been given to Isaiah but they were actually fulfilled by Jesus. Isaiah wasn’t the anointed one, the one who brought good news to the oppressed, bound up the brokenhearted, released the captives. No, it was Jesus as the living word that actually put the words into effect in and through his life. Jesus actually released the captives, bound the brokenhearted, and brought good news with his life! He didn’t just talk about it…he lived it! Indeed, Isaiah’s words did more than encourage and empower Isaiah…they encouraged and empowered Jesus too! They gave Jesus the courage and strength to reveal himself as the living Word, the Son of God, in the synagogue early on in his ministry. Given to Isaiah, actualized in Jesus…
And I would take it a step further. The words may have been given to Isaiah, actualized or fulfilled in Jesus, but they live on in you and me. WE are the living body of Christ and as such have been encouraged and empowered to actualize or fulfill Isaiah’s words as well. Because Christ lives in us now, WE, too, have been anointed to bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and comfort all who mourn. The strength and courage we need to carry out such a mission comes from Christ within us…the LOVE of Christ within us! Friends, I know how uncomfortable it is to be around the oppressed and prisoners and the brokenhearted and those who mourn. It is a tiring, soul-sucking, unrewarding experience most of the time. But we don’t do it for our own sakes. We do it because God wants us to do it! And God enables us to do it with the help of the Spirit and Jesus within us. The Spirit and the Son give us all the strength and courage we need! They will protect us and guide us. They will give us what we need to give to neighbors in need.
Which is why we celebrate with great joy and thanksgiving the birth of the Son each and every year! He comes into our lives, yet again, with both a mission and the strength and courage to carry out that mission. And what is that mission? To fulfill Jesus’ second most important command, right behind loving God with all our hearts, minds, and souls–we are COMMANDED to love each other just as he loves us! Why do we have to bring good news to the oppressed, bind the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and comfort all who mourn? BECAUSE IN DOING SO WE ARE LOVING EACH OTHER…ALL OF EACH OTHER! Even the ones we don’t want to love or find difficult to love! Friends, we need to love each other, plain and simple. We need to encourage and empower each other. Paul writes in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” (5:11) And in his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.” (15:2) Isaiah’s words encourage and empower us too! WE are anointed because of Christ within us!
So as we get ever closer to celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, let us give thanks for his mission and encouragement. Let us rejoice in his command to love each other and the strength and courage he gives us to fulfill such a command. There are many who need release from captivity and comfort. Seek them out and share the love of Christ with them. Encourage them as you have been encouraged. Heed the wisdom of Hebrews that says, “and let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (10:24-25) Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.