Sermon December 14, 2014
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
If you turn on your TV, radio, open the newspaper, or look online, you will be reminded that there are 10 shopping days until Christmas. Stores are hoping that your blood pressure will rise and you will rush out to buy gifts. That is what this season is all about, right? This morning our children and youth gave us a glimpse into the story of Christmas and there was no mention of shopping. They told us of an angel visiting Joseph with impossible news. This story began long before an angel spoke to Joseph.
Today, the scripture is from the prophet Isaiah. The words he spoke this morning may have been familiar to you. These were the words Jesus spoke in his first sermon in the gospel of Luke: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
I suppose the words themselves might have been ok, but then he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” and suddenly the crowd is buzzing, “Just who does this son of Joseph think he is?” Jesus knows that they really believed that God would take care of them alone. They weren’t worried about anyone else and they didn’t think God should be either. Jesus’ words sent them into a rage and they drove him out of town thinking they would throw him off a cliff.
Jesus is reminding the people that God loves justice and cares for all who are afflicted. Our job is to bring justice where it is needed. In this season of Advent, we are hearing of many terrible abuses and this week the CIA torture report was released. Into these stories we hear of the one sent by God to bring good news to those who are poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives and liberation for prisoners. What do these words have to say to us as we try and process the torture report and the other news reports of brutality and murder? Do they say anything about us? It is easy to get worked up about others but not so easy to look at ourselves.
At text study this week, we looked at the scriptures and talked about our aversion to confession. No one wants to feel guilty. I remember as a child saying the words “we are not worthy to gather up the crumbs from under thy table” before taking communion. Perhaps we don’t need to be told that we have no value and should feel terrible about ourselves. But I think if we refuse to confess, we are also refusing to acknowledge our responsibility in many situations. One of the lines I have appreciated confessing in recent years is “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” I felt relief when I said those words aloud and acknowledged what I had done and what I had left undone. How do we take hold of things and move on if we refuse to acknowledge our part in them?
Our conversation in text study took us to the Prayer of Confession for Advent from the UCC Book of Worship: “God we confess that it is not easy to wait for you. Our world worships with power that acts quickly through force; how difficult it is for us to wait for the power of your rule, which comes slowly through your love. We admit, that while claiming to desire your reign of peace and justice, we take part in the ways of war, hatred, and injustice. We leave little room for you to act in our lives. We turn now to you in repentance and openness to your Spirit. Forgive us, and show us how to clear a path for you. Come to us in your Christ, and reveal your reign on earth. Amen.
How are we going to be people of justice, if we don’t first honestly name injustice? Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” Jesus’ refusal to be silent about injustice really upset his hometown.
We are still in the season of waiting. In this season as we prepare, we are confronted daily with stories of injustice. We are preparing for one to come who will call us into difficult places. We are waiting for one who has been promised and the promise is that this one will bring good news for all people. The word promise comes from a Latin word meaning “to send, to do something”. A promise is a call to take action. So this season of waiting is not passive, but a call to action and preparation. It is a call for an honest look at ourselves and a commitment to care for those who are the most vulnerable. Each day is an opportunity to choose the way of peace and compassion. Each day invites us to more deeply embrace God’s promise and to recognize that we receive the promise by acting on it.
Remember that the main character of Advent is John. John was the one who was sent to point the way to Jesus. That was his life purpose. He took it seriously and gave it his all. He didn’t seem to be offended that he wasn’t Jesus, but showed people where to find Jesus and what it means to follow him. If we want to know how to prepare in this season, we can look to John and practice pointing. We can practice by responding to the ones who are in need with the same tender care Jesus showed. Preparation is more than opening our hearts. It is offering our lives. It is living in a way that others see Jesus in us.
Our hymn of response is the voice of John’s father, Zechariah. Zechariah questioned the angel who promised they would have a child and he was silenced until John was born. These are the words he sang when he saw his son. He tells his son that he is to preach that all may know the tender love, the grace of God. That is what we are about in this season. Listen to the words as you sing and know that God is rescuing us from fear that we might serve in holiness and peace. I think that will help us prepare for Christ’s coming much better than shopping. It’s a good place to start.