* This post is part of an Advent devotional being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here.
Tuesday 23 December
Read: Isaiah 61:1-3
(light four candles)
Each Sunday in Advent last year and this year our church has proclaimed the Good News through a simple call and response between our children and the adults. The children gather at the front of the sanctuary. While facing the rest of those who have gathered that morning, they declare in a loud voice: “Jesus is coming!” To which the adults respond: “He’s almost here!” This simple act reminds us that our act of remembering Jesus’ birth is intended to deepen our anticipation and longing for the day when Jesus will return.
But the act of remembering Jesus also creates a certain amount of discomfort in us. The first time Jesus came people had a difficult time recognizing him for who he really was. It wasn’t just a handful of Pharisees and teachers of the Law who had trouble figuring Jesus out. Pretty much everyone who should have realized that Jesus was the long promised Messiah somehow were left wondering if Jesus really could be the one they were waiting for. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that John the Baptist, Jesus’ own cousin, sends his students to Jesus, asking “are you the one or should we look for another?” Advent gives us a word of caution as well: God comes to us in ways that burst the boundaries of our ideas about who God should be.
In responding to John’s disciples, Jesus heals a bunch of people and then says “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Jesus reveals himself by the way he attends to those who have been marginalized. And that’s exactly what Isaiah said would happen.
The beauty of God’s lavish love is that those who have born the weight of a broken creation and who have been deeply entangled in the consequences of personal and systemic sins are set free and restored. The poor are no longer overlooked. The brokenhearted are healed. Those who are captive – whether to substances, false gods, or their own desires gone awry – are given freedom. Perhaps most audaciously, prisoners are released. The text says nothing about the cause of their imprisonment, whether because of unjust systems and oppressive tyrants or as a consequence of their own behaviors, only that when God’s promised one comes even the prisoners will be released. The Spirit of the Lord poured out on the anointed Servant ushers in the Lord’s favor – a year of jubilee where debts are cancelled and all that had gone wrong is set right once again.
Perhaps we could leave it there and say that these acts of attending to the poor, the prisoner, the marginalized were simply what Jesus did. But the troubling aspect of Isaiah’s prophecy and the disruptive nature of Jesus’ incarnation is that they expect us to follow Jesus by living in similar fashion. Isaiah points to the Messiah as one who will raise up oaks of righteousness to extend and replicate what the Messiah does. Jesus says simply and repeatedly “Come, follow me” and “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Through Advent we are formed within the audacious story of God’s lavish love in Jesus Christ’s incarnation so that we will more fully and more faithfully anticipate Jesus’ return in the way we live here and now, particularly among the biblical poor: widows, orphans, immigrants, prisoners, hungry, naked, sick, elderly, and whoever else feels the weight of our sins in their hearts, souls, minds, and strength.
God, whet our appetite for the complete remaking of all that is not the way it is supposed to be. Overcome our self-righteousness and our indignation that your lavish love includes those we have despised, wounded, neglected, oppressed, discarded, and condemned. Indeed, by your Spirit who is already at work within us, transform us into oaks of righteousness that your coming kingdom might be evident in us here and now, even as it is in Jesus.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus, that the light of your life may make known your lavish love to all you have made! Amen.