Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 24, 2023
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
There is a long tradition, during the Christmas season, of looking back to the words from the prophets in the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah lived some 700-800 years before Jesus but the book that bears his name is full of hopeful messages about eventual relief for his people, the Israelites, who were in tough times and headed for tougher times!
The reason why this passage that Matt read to us a minute ago is worthy of our attention on the night before Christmas is something that happened in the village of Nazareth when Jesus was about 30. It was his first step into public ministry and he chose to do that in the Synagogue in the town where he grew up.
He stood up, picked up the scroll (scripture) and read the exact words that Matt just read for us!
“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 set free those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Now here is as clear a mission statement from someone as you can hope for! It is Jesus declaring at the very outset what he was about and what he intended to do with his life in the immediate future.
His audience – his mission and ministry – the gifts he had to bring were meant for the poor, captives, the blind and the oppressed. He was exactly the kind of person Isaiah had in mind when he was crying out for relief for his people 700 years earlier.
In Isaiah’s time, they needed someone who would not just care about their spiritual needs, but also help lift them out of their physical and social dilemmas too! Jesus said: I’m your man! What I plan to do is exactly what Isaiah said you all needed! And by his life he said: If you’re not one of those who are broken or captive, then come be a part of the healers! Be a part of bringing justice and fairness to the world!
So when we gather around the Christmas Tree tonight and tomorrow, when we go through our traditional breakfast tomorrow morning, and settle in to exchange presents in the way we have always done it, is there space somewhere to reflect on the character of this newborn prophet, preacher, teacher, healer, lover of all the broken and the blind?
Who do we see there in the manger crib? Is he only the one who came to save US from our sins and bring us the blessings of God that are so abundant? No, we must also know that his heart and compassion was not just for us but from start to finish, on the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.
So, in a way what I am saying is that Christmas and the gift of Jesus to our world is not just about what God has done for US, but also what we are called to do in the world as we follow Jesus!
In this great Christmas gift, God had in mind not just our own pain, guilt, fear, and distress, but God was thinking of the whole world!
All of the poor, and all of the ways they are poor!
All of the captives, and all of the ways people become imprisoned!
All of the blind, and all of the ways people cannot and will not see!
All of the oppressed and all of the ways people are in bondage to others who are stronger and more evil.
It is so instructive to pay attention to what Jesus’ mother saw in him from the very beginning. When she first knew the stirrings of baby Jesus in her womb, she was so filled with a kind of awe that we can only imagine and she sat down to write it out for us to understand – and you can guess the theme. Her writing is called the Magnificat.
Luke 1:46 “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy.
This is all a cry for, and a promise of JUSTICE. The heart of God pleads for God’s people to be involved with him in the work of justice wherever we see the opportunity and wherever we are called. Like Jesus, as we walk along our daily routine tending to this and that, we are invited to lift the fallen, encourage the broken, mend the bruises, and free the hostages. We are asked to see everyone as one of God’s own!
In whatever ways we are capable and called, we are ambassadors for fairness, respect, and rightness (righteousness) in this broken world of ours. No matter who they are – what they believe – or what their skin color is. We are called to see their heart and soul and be the hands and feet of Jesus.
So I guess another way to put all of this is: When you look under the tree tomorrow and see all the gifts there, pay attention to how many have your name on it – especially the ones with your name in the “from” category!