Advent 3 – Sunday, December 17, 2017

December 17, 2017  

Isaiah 61

There is a story in the 8th chapter of the book of Acts about an Ethiopian eunuch who, while riding along in his chariot, was reading from the book of Isaiah. He was reading a description of the Suffering servant, a description not unlike our first reading this morning. The eunuch was perplexed by the meaning of the passage so he turned to Philip, a Christian apostle, and asked him “About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” (Acts 8:34).

He was reading from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, part of a collection of Servant Poems written during the time the Israelites were living in exile in Babylon.

“About whom, pray, does the prophet say this?”

Whom did the spirit of God descend upon?

Who did God anoint?

Who was this servant in Isaiah’s poem? Who brought good news to the oppressed?

Who had the power to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners?

Philip was one of the new apostles, a first century Christian who had dedicated himself to following the teachings of the New Messiah.

Philip’s answer was to begin to teach the eunuch about the good news of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:35).

According to the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus began his ministry, he was in the town of Nazareth, his hometown, a place where people knew him. While worshiping there he was asked to read from Holy Scripture. He went to the place where they kept the scrolls and selected his text. The text he selected included the words that begin our first reading from today:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me…” (Isiah 61:1).

Then Jesus announced to the worshipers:

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

The eunuch’s question had been answered before it was ever asked. Jesus was the one who would bring good news to the oppressed. Jesus was the one who would bind up the brokenhearted.

When Isaiah chapter 61 was written the Israelites were living in a strange land, far from home, far from loved ones, far from the places and the people who provided them safety and security and comfort and ease. They were physically suffering. They felt abandoned, betrayed, some were without any kind of hope.

Isaiah’s words brought hope to those who were hopeless. Isiah’s words brought light to the shadows. His poems contained an ecstatic hopefulness that was contagious… his hope broke through walls of gloom, offering a vision of something better.

We believe Jesus fulfilled Isiah’s vision. We believe Jesus is our hope.

I have led four funerals in four weeks. Each death unique, each death a sadness, each death leaving behind survivors who now mourn.

The holidays don’t help. Which is why we will have our Longest Night service this Thursday evening… we need God’s light to shine through the valley of the shadow. We need to feel and to trust in God’s presence.

We need to lift our eyes to the hills and hear, and know, and believe that our help comes from God.

This time of year the days are grey and the nights are long.

But there is daylight. There is morning every day, even for those who mourn. There is help and there is hope.

“Our help comes from God, the maker of heaven and earth…

God neither slumbers no sleeps” (Psalm 121).

We lit three candles this morning.

One because we know Christ has come.

A 2nd because we know Christ will come again.

A third because we know Christ’s love. We know Christ’s love for us.

And we trust in the power of that love.

Amen.