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The Good News is Radical!

December 12, 2020

It is the Third Sunday of Advent and we are once again visiting the Prophet Isaiah. Last Sunday the passage was Isaiah 40:1-11 where Isaiah was bringing words of hope from God to the people in exile. You may recognize the opening verses of Isaiah 61 for this week – “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…. (verses 1-2a) 

God promised the people that better days are ahead of them and Jerusalem will be rebuilt. However, there is a reminder offered in verse eight – “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.” It is indeed good news being offered to the people as they prepare to return to Jerusalem in order to re-establish the Temple and their lives. I see the comment about loving justice and hating robbery and wrongdoing as a reminder to the people. Don’t forget what you did to end up in exile! I am giving you a new opportunity to turn the corner and be the people I created you to be. Time and time again the people went into exile thanks to their self-serving political and religious leaders. 

Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1-2a in Luke 4:18-21 when he rose to speak/teach in the synagogue he grew up in: 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 let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ Yes, Jesus was speaking out against the leadership whose predecessors were the reason the people had gone into exile in the time of Isaiah. God’s message was still the same—justice, release, recovery, freedom, and the good news. Ecclesiastes said there is nothing new under the heavens and this is an example of that.

When John the Baptist came with a message from God about repentance and new life; it was an individual and communal call to turn the community and individual lives around. From his physical appearance to his preaching, John was speaking as a prophetic witness in the manner of Isaiah or any of the prophets. Yet it wasn’t a powerplay on his part; John was preparing the way for one much greater than him. John got the people’s attention and that included the religious and political leadership. The question that I have been chewing on this is this: Have we domesticated the good news? Is it only about the personal salvific experience? Does the domesticated good news simply maintain the status quo (American exceptionalism)? Do we use this neutered version to say we are better than everyone else? Has it become a political tool in a system that oppresses?

The prophets, John the Baptist, and Jesus call for a radical new way of living. There is nothing symbolic or easy about this change. It is about far more than the individual salvific experience. It is about community transformation. Jesus, like John before him, spoke and taught a radical theology. The radical good news was societal and religious transformation! Do justice, don’t sit back and watch the oppression continue. Love kindness and mercy don’t be a part of the system of oppression. Walk humbly with God because it isn’t about you.

If we aren’t made at least slightly uncomfortable by the good news, we aren’t listening to the message God has for us. As we approach Christmas, we are called to reflect on more than the manger scene. We are called to reflect on and be an active part of carrying out the message of the prophets as Jesus and John did. Do justice; love kindness/mercy, walk humbly with God.

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