Third Sunday of Advent
December 14, 2014
St. Stephen's, St. Stephen
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
I Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
The truth of certain messages can be so profound that the words transcend time. Thus, some truth conveyed at a current moment carries its truthfulness into another time as well.
For instance, we may remember the impact of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream” speech. His words inspired countless people in that day, and they continue to do so in our own day as well. We might also bring to mind words from Franklin Roosevelt, who recalled observations from earlier philosophers, as he led this country during economic hardship. He proclaimed, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (Familiar Quotations, p 971). Such examples as these – along with many others – have been remembered and quoted through the years because of their timeless truth. It is as though such truth echoes through the years.
Our First Lesson this morning includes a particular message which has echoed in times since its initial expression. Isaiah appeared in a time that the people of God found themselves in great difficulty and challenging circumstances. They were in exile, out of their own land. They were oppressed in every way. And, in addition, they were hopeful that a savior, a messiah, would come to their rescue. This, then, was the setting into which Isaiah was called.
The prophet recounts his calling with these words: “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” (61:1-2a). Such was Isaiah’s calling, in that time of exile, persecution, and expectation. His call, his task, was to put things right that were wrong; to challenge the oppressive forces of power; and, even, to endure personal suffering as a result.
Generations later – long after the time of Isaiah and of exile – the people of God faced a different sort of persecution, from another source. The Roman Empire ruled the area of Israel with a heavy hand. Further, the religious authorities controlled people’s spiritual lives and practices with a vengeance. In those circumstances, the people hoped for a savior, a messiah, to deliver them. Actually, that expectation and hope became so great that the people mistook John the Baptist for the messiah, as we read in today’s Gospel.
Soon afterwards, though, Jesus appeared on the scene. At the very beginning of his public ministry, Jesus went into the synagogue in Nazareth. He unrolled the scroll of holy writings, and he read these words: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he 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” (Is 61:1-2a; also Lk 4:18-19).
A timeless truth echoed on that day. In that time of hardship, persecution, and expectation, Jesus responded to his calling. That call, his task, was to put things right that were wrong; to challenge the oppressive forces of power; and, even, to endure personal suffering as a result.
In our day, the season of Advent encourages our expectation of things to come. What we are called to anticipate is the return of Jesus as our Savior and Messiah. Challenges for us are that we do not generally sense hardship and persecution. Our expectation does not seem so critical and urgent as in the day of Isaiah or of Jesus. Yet, our faith encourages us to be prepared and to get ourselves ready for the One who is to come. Thus, in our collect today, we prayed, “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us” (BCP, p212). And with regularity, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (BCP, p364).
Therefore, perhaps a timeless truth continues to call us, through the centuries. Perhaps we should heed the call, first heard by Isaiah and then by Jesus. Perhaps these words are intended for us as well – a personal call in our own day. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he 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” (Is 61:1-2a). As we respond to that call, may we be made ready to receive Jesus the Christ as our Savior and Messiah. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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