Rev. Cheryl Harader
Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11
We just sang “Give Thanks . . . because of what the Lord has done for us.” This has been a favorite song of mine for many, many years. I sing and sign it when I have personal devotion times a lot. It is a song that has taught me so much,
About 10 years ago, maybe more, I was singing this song with a group of youth, and we sang it just the way we did. I thought, “That’s not right. It’s supposed to be “because of what the Lord has done for me. After all, “me” and “free” rhyme.”
Well, when I listened to my CD, I found out that I was wrong. And I knew that I had not only been wrong in the words, but in the theology that I had been singing to myself. You see, it was pretty comforting to say, “Because of what the Lord has done for me,” then I can remember that I can be strong, rich, well and free.
But that’s not the song. And it’s not God’s word here in Isaiah.
The message is that those who are weak, poor, sick and bound “because of what the Lord has done for us”—the church, the body of Christ.
That is today’s message.
Let’s pray. “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, the one who frees us and heals us. Amen.”
You might already be thinking, “This is in no way a Christmas sermon.”
• The Israelites, to whom this was written, would very likely agree with you. This poem was written in the aftermath of the exile. (586-538 b.c.)
o The temple was in ruins—how do we repair it when pigs had been sacrificed on the altar and profaned it?
o The wall was in ruins. Where do you begin and how do you begin such a huge project as rebuilding a wall around a city, esp. a holy city.
o The streets were in ruins.
o Everything needed repair, not the least of which was their hearts. Hearts full of fear and sadness.
• So, just how does this passage apply to Christmas? Where are the lights and the children dancing merrily? Were they really supposed to buy the words that God would give them oil of gladness instead of mourning; a mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting? Really, God?
• Ok. This might not be a Christmas sermon. But it is an advent message. It is a message of hope: good news is brought to the poor and the afflicted—they are no longer facing the powers-that-be on their own: God is with them; healing is brought to the broken-hearted—they no longer have to face their struggles alone: God is with them; liberty is brought to the captives—they are no longer held captive by others, by addictions, by fear: God is with them; freedom is brought to prisoners—most people who were in prison because they were in debt, they were poor and taken advantage of, and they were imprisoned; they no longer have to lose their dignity or their property to those who are richer than they are: God is with them.
• This might not be a Christmas message, but it is an Advent message, because it is God’s desire for God’s people, and many years later that desire became flesh in Jesus Christ.
• This is the message of God’s advent into the world; the message of the Christ Child: God is with us. God Emmanuel.
• We can understand what Isaiah means by the poor and afflicted, by the brokenhearted, by the captives and prisoners.
• We live in a world where
o Addictions (many of them hidden) rule us in so many ways—materialism among them;
o Violence is not just overseas in Pakistan, in our own country where children shoot children (sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose) and violence is in our own state, where a mother kills her 10-year-old child because she fears the future he faces; for some of us violence is next door, or in our own homes
o We live in a world where mental illness still gets swept under the carpet and denied and ill people are treated like criminals.
o Like early Israel, we live in a world where relationships are severed, where families have been torn apart—sometimes by war or death, or something out of their control; sometimes through fighting and the demon of hatred.
o Greed, hatred, fear seem to have the final word—then and now
• People feel oppressed, abused, brokenhearted, captive, imprisoned—and wonder when God’s transformation will take place.
• Advent is a time of waiting and preparation for God to transform the world through Jesus Christ. In Luke 4, Jesus leaves no doubt about it, when he reads this Isaiah 61 text then tells the congregation, “Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
o Jesus proclaims that he is the one who will bring God’s transformation to a broken world.
o And they must have wondered; we wonder, “Could it be true?” Can we be transformed? Can we be changed? Can we be saved?
• We are tempted to make it all about us, then we sing a song like “Give Thanks” and we are reminded that it is because of “what the Lord has done for us.”
• And we are reminded that we are Christ’s body in the world. The world transforms because of what the Lord has done for us, the spiritual community. Because the spiritual community, not an individual, is at the heart of this poem. It is at the heart of God’s plan.
• So, even when we are distressed and confused and downtrodden we can share God’s good news. Because of what the Lord has done for us—empowered us by the Holy Spirit; and we are encouraged by each other. We are the ones who know God’s forgiveness and grace; the ones who have experienced God’s love and transformation. And so, this Advent season we are reminded that we are the ones who are “the repairers of the streets.” We are the ones who bring the good news . . .
• We know. We have the faith that God can take the rubble left behind and make something new.
• And so we act; we act in an active hope, not a hope that sits around and says, “If God wants it done, it will happen.” No, we get out there and work with God so that it might happen.
• I could tell a lot of stories here, but I want to share only one. A friend of mine in Winfield recently received her Masters in Restorative Justice. When I asked her to explain what it was about, she said that it is really about community—it is about repairing relationships. It does not take the place of punishment, but it is in addition to it. It helps an elderly person who is afraid to leave her home after it has been vandalized to get to know the perpetrator who vandalized her home and realize that it was random; she was not being singled out. It helps her to see the perpetrator work at repairing the damage done, with a supervisor, of course. And it helps the perpetrator understand that it wasn’t some “night of fun,” but that it was a “night of terror” for the victim. Most often, the perpetrators do not get to see the full effect of their actions. They get punished perhaps, then resentful, because they may think, “What’s the big deal.” Well, they learn what the big deal is. Restorative justice isn’t about making the victim and perpetrator friends. That’s often not desirable or possible. It is about helping the victim feel safe in the community once again, and about allowing the perpetrator to re-enter the community with dignity. It is God’s work of reconciliation and of “repairing the streets.” And it becomes our work.
• There are so many other places where healing and hope are happening—in the work of the Justice Matters group in Lawrence, as they look at homelessness, mental illness, and children’s issues.
• And so, we wait for the coming of the Christ Child, even as we follow him in justice, healing, and hope.
I put on a light up necklace that I bought after David’s death, but then I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘This is not right!’” [Pretty much the same feeling that I had singing “Give Thanks” so many years ago.]
o The reason I thought that, maybe even said it out loud even though I was by myself, was because this necklace with David’s ashes in it was already around my neck. Before I could even reach around and turn off the lights on the necklace and make things right, I knew. I knew and I thought to myself, ‘This is the only way that is right.’”
o This necklace, this pain, is surrounded by the light of God. A light that has always been, and one that came into this world as a baby more than 2,000 years ago. This is the only way.
• That’s what Advent Hope is all about. The pain, the brokenness, the captivity, wherever the brokenness is, is surrounded by God’s light, the light of Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate this year.
• And the world can “give thanks” “because of what the Lord has done for us.” For we are a part of God’s light in the world.