Reading: Isaiah 61:1-4
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
Reflection: The Kingdom
Isaiah tells us the Spirit of the Lord is on him, and proclaims a future when it will rest on us also as brothers and sisters of the living God. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” What is it like, this kingdom? The message for this third Sunday in Advent is all about an understanding of and knowledge about life in the kingdom of God. There will be an abundance of food and understanding and wisdom.
The poor and the needy will be rescued and cared for, the oppressed will be made safe and healed, justice and mercy will reign, righteousness and equity will be the order of the day. There will be the release of a tremendous power that can actually transform nature. And this power will bring peace, a harmony and order of things that will last forever and will transform our lives forever. It is the life in the presence of God, the life in God’s kingdom, the life in Christ. The opening verses are coming direct from the prophet later in Luke’s gospel Jesus quotes verse one and the first line of verse two before saying to the people, ‘today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ We belong to a religion of relationship, not a religion of law.
In a religion of law all we have to do is follow the rules. We don’t need to engage with them in any meaningful way, we don’t need to interpret them or discuss their merits we simply, even blindly, follow the rules as they are laid down before us. If a messiah is part of the package, it is our job to wait for that messiah to come, following the rules in the meantime. In a religion of relationship, in Christianity, our job is to acknowledge our relationship with God and to engage in that relationship. It is hard to have a healthy relationship with someone if you never show up or only rarely acknowledge their existence. The relationship does exist no matter what you do, but it is simply an unhealthy or inactive relationship if you fail to participate as an active partner. Isaiah offers great hope to people of his time just as that same hope is offered to people today. This promised Messiah will be God in relationship with his people. The broken hearted will be bound up. The captives will be set free. No more will people carry the ashes of mourning instead they will be anointed with the oil of gladness. No more will despair and gloom be the outlook for this will be replaced with a garment of praise. There will be a rebuilding of the things which the people held dear in their hearts. The restoration of Jerusalem following the exile. The restoration of God’s people when the Saviour comes. God’s promises are for all of us, they are essential if we are to live into the full power and joy and contentment of relationship with God.
Reading: Isaiah 61:8-11
“For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed.” I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
From the words of Isaiah we turn now to the words of the Lord confirming everything that Isaiah has said before. Now God proclaims this everlasting covenant that he will make with his people. If we believe that God can see that we live in harmony with one another, then we must allow God to be at the centre of that harmony; if we believe that God can heal us, we must allow God’s hand to implement that healing; if we believe that God can forgive the sins we have committed, then we must allow God to forgive those sins.
God is pastoral; God loves this glorious relationship with us. We have to prepare a way for God, through Christ and his spirit, to enter into our lives and also a way for God’s message to come out again from us. The prophet, Isaiah, is looking to and speaking of a time when a descendent of David will bring in a reign of justice and peace when all of creation will live in harmony. It is a picture of not only how things could be, but what they will be like under the leadership of the new king. The king will be unlike any other, who has gone before him, deemed as fit for the job because of their royal birth. He will have the Spirit of God working in and through him bringing out such gifts of leadership that are necessary to govern wisely and deal with people justly yet firmly. Christ the Messiah is seen as both Saviour and judge. Saviour to those who believe and judge of those who don’t. It is not unrealistic to look on this time between the first coming of Christ and the second as, ‘The year of the Lord’s favour.’ This is the time when we are offered salvation. The choices we make in this life may well determine if Christ returns as our Saviour or judge. In verse 11 the prophet describes what the new kingdom will be like painting a scene of paradise regained. ‘For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.’ The world is turned the right way up once again with peace and harmony, equality and justice the marks of the new kingdom. Through all of this his message is one of hope for all God’s people. A time to sow the seeds of hope is here and now. The king is coming not just to individuals, but to communities and nations also. The king is not working in isolation from his people, but in partnership with them. In a world where there are many voices there is a need for a clear voice to speak clearly for God.