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Lectionary Reflection

Year B, Advent 3
Revised Common Lectionary
Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Reading

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion —
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

 

For I the Lord love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

 

Reflections on Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11
by John G Gibbs, PhD

Oppression Overcome, Landscape Secured

The wilderness of suffering extends across the landscape as far as the eye can see. You see it in every newspaper, and usually on TV and online. Personal pain, social dislocation, ecological stress becoming in places and in time catastrophe - all these bear down oppressively and ubiquitously. "Collapse" proclaims one book title, and "the heat is on" declares another. "The Age of Anxiety," "The Assault on Reason," "American Theocracy," "Children of Crisis," "Divided by God," "What's the Matter with Kansas?" – such book titles march across our history as far as the eye can see.

It takes prophetic imagination to see anything different. That is what the Season of Advent is all about. Last Sunday it was the advent of compassion –- not naïve, but open-eyed and open-hearted compassion for all creatures. This Sunday the watchword is "righteousness" – not the opposite of compassion, but the ordering of it in real life. When we move from compassion to righteousness, we move from identification with the oppressed to expectation that God's will prevails over oppression.

When the Third Isaiah confronted his wilderness with "righteousness" he set forth the advent of: (1) a new vision of God, (2) a new view of reality, and (3) a new way of life. All three shifts in perspective move toward oppression overcome and landscape secured. All three changes in viewpoint enable us to envision Creation as the Creator intended it to be, filled with Shalom, "the peaceable kingdom."

Let us attend first to our vision of God the one and only fully Righteous One. In our culture, the word "righteous" has sounded forbidding, dark, judgment-filled, and hopeless. For some folks that is how God appears: dark and forbidding. For the three Isaiahs, however, righteousness is like the plumb-line with which the builder constructs a reliable sturdy building, with exact right-angles where they belong. God is the dependable One, the One we can count on, the One who is more creative at problem-solving than anyone or any institution we know.

God is the One whose Spirit moves beyond creating the universe, for each of us can still experience what Isaiah wrote: "the Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me." (We have been baptized.) God's righteousness renews creatures and the environing creation, for it expresses God's persistence in supporting the long-term investment that the Creator made in this world and in all of humanity.

This new vision of God sees the planter who cares for great oak-trees of righteousness that stand tall among anxious people. This vision sees the herald of good news, the physician of healing, the liberator of the oppressed, the source of every dawn - that is who God is. God is "Peace as your overseer and Righteousnesss as your taskmaster" (Is. 10:17). God the Liberator, Planter, Herald, Healer, Maker of creation and community alike, the Cosmic Ruler who works for health and wholeness within the human community no less than within the whole creation of which humanity is one part - that is the vision that arrives with this prophet. It gives hints of what is to come in the Lord's birth, life, death, and resurrection.

The new vision of God introduces a new view of reality. It embraces a new self, a new society, and a new ecosphere. The new vision of God's faithfulness to all creatures, us included, saves us from both self-importance and self-rejection, enables us to undertake social reconstruction for the common good, and challenges us to maintain the original "goodness" that obtained on the first day of creation.

Really to see God anew is never to see the neighbor the same way again. Nor does this vision of God leave any of us alone with a sterile private "salvation," for we are never whole in self-imposed solitary confinement. The new vision of God impacts our "social construction of reality."
Stand with me atop Stone Mountain and look over the city of Atlanta and all the communities and farmlands and woodlands that surround it. One late afternoon I was there, and could look westward toward the city and the editorial office within which I worked - not far, by the way, from a Krispy Kreme Doughnut store down the hill. On the top of Stone Mountain I knew that the editorial notes I had written and the small-print footnotes that I had read in multiple manuscripts were still there waiting for my return. But from that distance, at that height, they were all relativized and put in perspective.

That ancient Hebrew word tsedeq signals saving righteousness, salvation or health and wholeness as we might see it from the mountain top of God's creative purpose. We need that sense of distance and transcendence to overcome our self-absorption that concentrates on inner issues. The world and its needs are so much bigger than us, and thankfully it all is overseen by the God of all righteous grace who remains dependable in midst of our chaos. The consciousness-raising vision of God's gracious righteousness reminds us of what we must do and be - if health and wholeness will be restored on the roads, in the marketplaces, and between the families and towns, cities, and peoples who live on the outstretched surface of the earth.

It is never enough to be saved, for so long as a neighbor suffers or a neighborhood declines, we are obligated to share God's faithfulness toward those who are in need. "For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing" (Is. 61:8). This view of God "unleashes a new social imagination" and brings "freedom for change and newness," as Walter Brueggemann maintains in his book, Hope Within History (John Knox Press, 1987). This prophetic vision of God helps build a "counter-community" that does not accept the dominant ideology of individualism and dog-eat-dog competition. When the 99% feel so alienated from the economically top 1% we need a new social construction of reality that traces out God's saving distinctions between justice and robbery.

Third, building on this new vision of God and reality, this prophet expects a new way of life. We hope with him for the advent of actions toward wholeness and health among all creatures. We long for the coming of "righteousness as the power to give life." "Getting to heaven" is not the point of our life. Doing deeds of justice is. Walking humbly with God is. Faithful love is. Constructive compassion trumps personal and corporate bottom lines.

The new way of life begins here and there to image the God of faithful love and care whom we have seen. As the Apostle Paul put it, we find resources to "be at peace among" ourselves. With our focus firmly fixed on God's fidelity, we find that our need for dependability "out there" and health within is fed. Sustained by God's faithfulness, we begin to "see that none of you repays evil for evil, but always" we are enabled to "seek to do good to one another and to all."
Thanks to prophetic insight that has steeled the nerve of God's People across centuries, we know hope that does not disappoint. In these visions and voices of consolation and right-hearted wellness we see flowers bloom and grass grow to lasting results: the God of Peace begins to make us whole again.

That is when our "spirit and body and soul" are "kept sound and blameless." We anticipate the coming of Light before it emerges on the eastern horizon. That is Advent for us. When prophetic creativity corrects our vision of God and reality, then we begin to work out a new way of life (cf. Phil. 2:12) that sees new possibilities in and for one another.

The great Shalom, the enduring Peace of God, permeates our persons, our societies, our ecosphere entire. The effects of Advent are then apparent: oppression overcome, landscape secured.

Printable version

 

To Reflections on other Readings for Year B, Advent 3:

Reflections available at the active links
Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary
Revised Common Lectionary
Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Reading (RCL: this page):
Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11
this page)
:
Psalm
Psalm 126
Psalm126 or Canticle 3 or 15
New Testament Reading
1 Thessalonians 5: (12-15)16-28
1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
Gospel
John 1:6-8, 19-28
John 1: 6-8, 19-28

 

John G Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, resided in Park Rapids, MN, when he originally wrote this reflection in 2011. John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John G Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:


MEESC
c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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