Sermon for Advent III, Year B
Based on Isa. 61:1-4
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
In some churches during this third Sunday in Advent, a rose-coloured candle on the Advent wreath is lit to symbolize and celebrate "Gaudete Sunday." "Gaudete" is a Latin word, which began the Introit of the liturgy, and translated means, "rejoice." When one reads our passage from Isaiah today, one is given an impression or mood of joy and rejoicing when the day of the Messiah's coming finally arrives.
When the Messiah comes, there will be a time of reversals and liberation, says our passage from Isaiah. This beautiful passage reads like a poem, describing the Messiah and his saving work. There is a mood of joy and celebration that accompanies the coming of the Messiah.
The prophet says that God's spirit is upon him; God has anointed him ~ this is the literal meaning of the word for Messiah and Christ, "the anointed one." Then we notice the nature of the Messiah's ministry is closely related to the people whom God sends him to save. The poor and oppressed, the weak, the captives and prisoners, the grieving and underprivileged are Top Priority for the Messiah and his ministry. This is clearly a very radical message. This message is one of changes, reversals and liberation.
In the Gospel of Luke, chapter four, Jesus, after reading this Isaiah passage, says that it referred to him and his work. He was the Messiah and this was the Messiah's saving work. Many Christians living in the Two-Thirds World today are so inspired by this passage ~ and Christ's interpretation of it ~ that they have employed it as a foundation for developing a theology of liberation.
This theology of liberation is right there in the Bible. When Christians use the word liberation, they mean at least three things. First, the word itself means deliverance and freedom. This deliverance and freedom is a gift from God and comes from God. It's a deliverance, a freedom from the slavery and oppression of our sin. God in Christ has accomplished and continues to do this for us. Thus, in this sense, liberation is personal.
Second, liberation means that God, and God's people, the church, must have a "preferential option for the poor," as Christians in Latin America have pointed out to the rest of us. Some people have asked the question: "Why does God favour the poor?" One theologian and founder of liberation theology ~ Gustavo Gutierrez, has given a very good answer to that question. First, of all, that's how God works in the Bible. The Israelite slaves are liberated from their Egyptian bondage; Jesus liberates many poor, oppressed, outcast people in his ministry.
Gutierrez goes on to say that God is on the side of the poor, not because they are any better or any worse than the non-poor. Rather, God takes their side because no one else does. As a matter of fact, they are poor because nobody sides with them.
This doesn't necessarily mean a lack of concern for those who are not poor. It does mean that concern for those who are not poor must be addressed in the light of Concern For The Poor, And Not Vice-Versa. A preferential option for the poor is the way God reverses reality so as make it an option for all people. By opting for the poor, we are open to challenge Whatever Or Whoever preserves the status quo to ensure the unbroken cycle of poverty. All Of Us Are Guilty because we participate in structures that oppress others ~ sometimes without our fully realizing it; at other times knowingly, but denying it or justifying it in the public square. Unless we change or break with oppressive structures, we add to the problems of global poverty and injustice.
Even before people called it liberation theology, the seeds of it were found in Lutheran pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who had this to say concerning the preferential option for the poor: "It remains an experience of incomparable value that we have for once learned to look at the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the marginalised, the suspected, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the despised, in short the suffering."
This leads us to a third meaning of the word liberation. As a result of God in Christ liberating us from our sin; as a result of God and the church supporting as preferential option for the poor; liberation means that Christ and us are committed to working to change the very structures of society which are oppressive.
Christ and us as Christians shall become involved in changing social, economic, political, and spiritual structures, which keep people oppressed, and poor. This important work is what our passage from Isaiah is all about. It involves reversals. Good News is preached to the oppressed; brokenhearted people are bound up, mended, and made whole again; those in captivity are liberated from all forms of oppression that kept them captive; prisoners are released; those who are filled with sorrow and grief shall be comforted with garlands of joyful celebration, they shall no longer need ashes because there shall be no need to grieve anymore; the ancient ruins and devastated cities shall be restored and rebuilt; then the best and most radical of them all ~ Brace Yourselves For This One Folks! ~ the prophet says that the Messiah shall come: "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
Most scholars believe that "the year of the Lord's favor" refers to the Jubilee year, which is described in the book of Leviticus, chapter twenty-five, verses one to twenty-four. The Jubilee year was actually a sabbatical year on a Magnified Scope. It involved ~ as scholars like Robert McAffee Brown and others have insightfully observed ~ among other things, four major reversals.
First, it involved the land, the soil lying fallow. Farmers and vineyard owners needed to be wise stewards of their crops and vineyards, in order that they'd have enough to tide them over the year of Jubilee. This ensured that the soil would have time for rest and revitalization; for the restoration of the soil's nutrients.
Second, all debts were cancelled. This provided everyone with the opportunity for a fresh, new start, a clean slate so-to-speak. If this ever happened, there would follow enormous economic changes. The astronomical debts of all the poor nations would be cancelled completely ~ as the mainline churches are presently appealing to the affluent nations for in the year 2,000 ~ this might well open the doors for greater equality among all nations. Another spin-off from this practice might reduce exploitation, creating peace and good-will among the nations.
Third, all slaves were to be released and given their freedom. This was a radical proposal, since, at that time in history, a large percentage of the population were slaves. Freeing slaves also had the potential of creating major economic upheavals, because, once freed, they would need adequate work and housing.
Fourth, there was a call to redistribute capital. For example, land that had been purchased after the previous Jubilee year was to be returned to its former owner. God was the true owner of the land, it was not to be sold in perpetuity. This ensured that people could not accumulate large tracts of land at the expense of others.
As you can see, these are quite Radical Reversals. Thus, in advocating the Jubilee year, the prophet's mission and Christ's mission in fulfilling the prophecy is ~ in the words of John Yoder ~ "a visible socio-political-economic restructuring of relations among the people of God."
As God's people, you and me, all of us are also given a share in this mission of the Messiah's reversals and liberation. We are Christ's Body, thus we are called and commissioned to participate in this wonderful process of changing, reversing, liberating people and structures which are oppressive. How do we accomplish that? Well, for starters, by believing that together, with Christ's help, We Count, We Can And Shall Make A Difference.
Here in Alberta, CBC radio did a story awhile back on a former C.E.O. of a large company, who lived high and "in the fast lane" for many years. Then one day, his company "downsized" him. After a period of job-hunting without success, the man began to consider how he was living. Out of that grew the realization for him that he needed to change his lifestyle by living more simply. Now he has settled for a lower standard of living, but he is much more content with himself and his way of life. He has discovered that he can live a very fulfilling life without all of the material possessions that he previously had, and which society pressures us into buying.
This last Advent of the century and millennium, may we too be encouraged by the reversals and liberating power of our coming Messiah. May they become a necessary part of our lives too, as we, together, work and pray for: "your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
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