Advent 3B Lectionary: Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11
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; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to 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. 4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations… 8For 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. 9Their 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. 10I 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. 11For 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 is a pretty familiar passage. We often read it as part of this season. It speaks of hope. God has sown God’s own Spirit into the one who speaks, breathed God’s breath into one who will carry out God’s will. And standing amid the ruins of what was once a thriving Jerusalem, the prophet depicts the perfect Reign of God, the time when all of Creation will be renewed and fulfilled. It is the hope for the future even in the midst of the smoldering ashes of what is now. And the prophet acknowledges and affirms an individual call from God, a call to bring good news, to bind up, to proclaim liberty, to witness, and to comfort. Well, that’s good…because we need someone to fix this mess, right?
But, then, in verse 3, notice that the pronoun changes. No longer is the prophet affirming an individual’s call. The calling is now to the plural “they”. It’s not just the “me” that is the prophet; it is the “they” that is everyone. (Ugh…bet you saw that coming!) The prophet is not called to “fix” things; the prophet is called to proclaim that all are called to this work of transformation. In other words, all that work that you think needs to be done? It’s ours to do!
All of us are part of what the Lord has planted and nourished and grown to bloom. All of us are “they”. We are the ones that are called to become the new shoots sprouting to life. We are the ones that are called to bring good news, to bind up, to proclaim liberty, to bring justice, to witness, and to comfort. This Scripture may sound vaguely familiar to us for another reason. In the fourth chapter of the Gospel According to the writer known as Luke, Jesus stands in the synagogue in his home temple in the midst of a world smarting with Roman occupation and cites these same words. He acknowledges his own calling, his own commissioning to this holy work. And he sets forth an agenda using the words of this prophet. So, here we are reminded once again. We are reminded what we as the people of Christ are called to do–to bring good news, to bind up, to proclaim liberty, to bring justice, to witness, to comfort, and to build the Kingdom of God.
Most of you probably know the story of England’s Coventry Cathedral. On November 14, 1940 in the midst of the Luftwaffe, the grand medieval Parish Church Cathedral of St. Michael was devastated by bombs and burned to the ground with the surrounding city. The decision to rebuild the cathedral was made the morning after its destruction. Rebuilding was seen not as an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. Shortly after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He set them up in the ruins where they were later placed on an altar of rubble with the moving words “Father, forgive” inscribed on the sanctuary wall. Another cross was fashioned from three medieval nails by local priest, Arthur Wales. The Cross of Nails has become the symbol of Coventry’s ministry of reconciliation.
Today, the new modern Coventry Cathedral stands dedicated to forgiveness, unity, and redemption. And next to it are the remains of the medieval cathedral. In the place of the altar are the words “Father, forgive” and flanking the altar are two statues—one given by Germany and one given by Japan. And although physically attached to the new Cathedral, the Chapel made of ruins is not consecrated as an Anglican space, but instead is on a 999-year lease to an ecumenical Joint Council. In the Chapel of Unity, people of any faith may gather to worship and receive the sacraments.
In this Season of Advent, we are called to prepare ourselves for what is to come. We are called to wait in hope and walk in light. And, yet, so many of us are experiencing a world right now where we are barely able to sense that hope and see the light. We live in a world racked with sickness, and fear, and death, and quarantines, and loneliness. Some of us have experienced financial hardships and despair. Many of us may identify more closely with the destruction in this passage than the good news. See, we like the image of our faith being one of light and promise and that seems like what it should be. But maybe even of more profound importance is our faith as one of shadows and remnants. The truth is, God doesn’t call people to “fix” the world; God calls people to transform the world. And we are “they”. We are the ones that are called to stand in the ruins, to step through the smoldering ashes, to take the remnants of destruction and hate and despair and to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and to comfort all who mourn. And as the earth brings forth shoots, as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
Faith transforms the earth into a paradise. By it our hearts are raised with the joy of our nearness to heaven. Every moment reveals God to us. Faith is our light in this life. (Jean Pierre de Caussade)
Grace and Peace,