First Reading: Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
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 wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring shall be known among the nations,
and their descendants in the midst of the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge them,
that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul 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 like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations. (ESV)
The Dark Side of Christmas #1
A year ago, the last of the Star Wars movies in the three trilogies was released, a span over 40 years. If you are at all familiar with the films, you know that the overall theme is the struggle between good and evil.
When it comes to the Christmas story, there are also themes that we may not initially notice. I call it the dark side of Christmas. Our Advent reading from Isaiah 61 contains both good and bad news, depending on how one responds to God and His Anointed.
Jesus references the passage in his first recorded sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4). But the good news to the poor, binding of the brokenhearted, proclaiming of liberty to the captives, and releasing of those imprisoned find an application over thirty years earlier when we reflect on what is happening in the accounts listed in Luke 2 and Matthew 2.
To whom do the angels report the good news of the Anointed One’s birth in Bethlehem? Shepherds. Necessary, but ritually unclean. Not someone you would invite to your home if you were interested in climbing the religious or social ladder.
Joseph and Mary certainly identify as poor. We suspect it from Jesus’s first bed in a manger. Our suspicions are confirmed in Luke 2:24, though, with Joseph and Mary’s meager offering when dedicating Jesus at the Temple, a provision for those who couldn’t afford the regular offering for the first-born male (see Leviticus 12:8).
Poor. Brokenhearted. Captives. Imprisoned. The ones who have experienced the less-than-good of this world are not the movers and shakers of society. They are, though, the people of the first Christmas story. When Joseph takes Mary and Jesus to flee to Egypt after the angel’s warning in Matthew 2, we could add the homeless and refugee to the list.
So as we prepare for the coming of our Lord – Advent – reflect on who is actually a part of the story. Consider how the good news impacts those looking for acceptance, those barely scraping by, those needing the safety and security of a place they can call home.
Talk with someone about the “dark side” themes in the Christmas story. How could you interact with those who relate to the characters of that first Christmas? Consider giving the gift of listening to them and their story. Praise God that his good news is for all willing to receive it, for all willing to receive his Son.
Randy Jaspers – Northern Plains Regional Minister