Today is the Sunday of Joy and at church we’re celebrating two shimmering expressions of the Word of God.
The first comes to us as the promise of God announced by the prophet. What happened was the people had returned to Zion after the exile. Even though they had come back home, even though the season of crisis was over, there was still poverty and environmental destruction. Workers were being exploited and abused. People were imprisoned. You can imagine the dismay! We thought the worst was over, and still the world is broken.
So the prophet speaks up: The Spirit of God has anointed me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberation to all who are held captive. Tell the prisoners they are released! Tell the boss it is a year of jubilee when all debts are erased! Go and tell those who mourn —the day has come when they will rejoice.
And you know we should have warned Julie… There’s no way to read these words from Isaiah out loud —I mean to hear them come out of your own mouth —there’s no way to do that and not have the words lay a claim to your soul. Because what if the Spirit has anointed you and me?
Imagine if we sent our prison pen pals Christmas cards that announced the end of mass incarceration!
Imagine if we informed the children in our neighborhood: Good news! You will no longer open the refrigerator only to find there’s nothing to eat. Your days of being hungry are over.
Imagine if we told the parents: God has spoken. You don’t have to worry about your baby getting grazed by a stray bullet. Gun violence has come to an end.
You hear how this is dangerous! It would be terrible if we were wrong! We know people around us who are struggling, and the last thing they need is a false promise. It’s just… What if it’s not a lie? What if the author of Isaiah is right, and this is what God imagines for our world, and and it’s up to us to prove it! Imagine if we announced this as our intention — if we let our own hearts be moved.
Whoever wrote the Gospel of Luke discovered: These sparkling verses from Isaiah name the promise that Jesus’ whole life was working to fulfill. It’s both his source and his destination. It’s the light that Jesus is living toward, and it’s the light by which everything else is able to be seen.
Now the way we’ve come to tell the story is when Jesus was starting out in ministry, he went back home to Nazareth. He returned to the synagogue where he had studied as a child, and you know how it goes. He hadn’t been there but a minute when they had him come down, read the scripture, and preach. Imagine if you had been confirmed at Church of Peace, then one day you found yourself standing in the sanctuary reciting the Bible verse you had memorized way back when.
So in front of all his old teachers and the friends of his parents, these verses from Isaiah are what Jesus speaks out loud. He might have learned this scripture from the people in the room, but once he speaks these words, the Gospel is not the same.
Today the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, says the Lord. We are being charged with the Word of God!
Today is the Sunday of Joy and we’re celebrating two shimmering expressions of the Word of God.
Alongside the proclamation of good news to the poor and release to the prisoners, we’re celebrating the story of the standard Christmas Pageant. (You know the one —the holy family, the shepherds and angels, the magi from the East.)
In the version you’re about to enjoy, the story imagines Mary telling Jesus the story of his own birth. The narrators we’re about to hear could have been the same caring adults who introduced Jesus to Isaiah Sixty-One.
While this is the plot of the story, it’s also how this year’s pageant came into being. With a story by Karen and direction and music from Katie, the parents of Church of Peace worked with their children to learn the story and the songs. Then the children created something for us when they couldn’t even see or hear each other, when they can’t even see us smiling or hear our applause. Here they are bringing comfort to those who mourn! They are bringing light to those who sit in darkness.
All I’m saying is when you watch the pageant, you might find that your own heart is moved. It’s the promise from Isaiah that renews our conviction to work for what God is yearning for in this world. It’s the story of Mary’s scrapbook that brings forth our own tenderness and delight.
May your heart be moved by the promise the Spirit has anointed you to proclaim. May your heart be moved by the joy of the children. May the Word of God be fulfilled in our hearing.