By Barbara Klugh
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, we have more beautiful poetry of hope from the Book of Isaiah, Paul gives us more instruction on living as good Christians, and John the Baptist confounds the priests, Levites, and Pharisees.
Isaiah: This week we have a beautifully poetic prophecy of hope and deliverance to encourage the Israelites after they returned home from exile. God has anointed and sent an unnamed speaker, reminiscent of the servant in Second Isaiah, who says,
“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 brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Scholars and commentators debate whether the speaker represents a single person or represents all of God’s people. “The year of the Lord’s favor” probably refers to the year of Jubilee, which was observed every 50 years to cancel debts, free slaves, and return land to its ancestral owners.
As Christians, we see this passage as a prophetic description of Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment of God’s promises, and the reason we are reading this passage during Advent. As you may remember from Luke’s gospel (Luke 4:18,19), Jesus read these words in the synagogue when he began his ministry. And Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Yet, I also think the worldwide Christian community has been given the authority to implement God’s plans for the healing and transformation of the world. Tall order. But that’s why we were given the indwelling power of Holy Spirit, and why each of us is part of the larger Body of Christ.
Later in our reading, God himself tells us he loves justice, and hates robbery and wrongdoing, will compensate the oppressed, and will make an everlasting covenant with his people. The world will know that they (and we) are a people the Lord has blessed. The speaker concludes with a psalm of thanksgiving for all the Lord has done and will continue to do, “The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”
Psalm: Our psalm is one of three in the prayers for Noonday in the Prayer Book. It’s one of the Songs of Ascents, also known as pilgrim psalms. It celebrates the saving acts of God so far and prays that they will continue until completion. “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed.”
I Thessalonians: First Thessalonians is considered to be Paul’s earliest letter, usually dated c. 50 AD. Indeed, it is considered to be the oldest surviving Christian writing. Paul, along with Silvanus and Timothy, founded the church in Thessalonica, the capital city of Macedonia, during his second missionary journey. Paul wrote the letter to instruct and encourage the young Christians to grow in faith and love, in anticipation of the return of Christ.
This week’s reading is less than 100 words, but Paul is full of parting instructions to help us live lives that are pleasing to God. Rejoice, pray, and give thanks no matter what. That sounds hard, especially when terrible things happen, but when we really get it that nothing can separate us from God’s love, we can still express thanks for that. And be careful not to quench the spirit or despise “the words of prophets.” Avoid every kind of evil and God will sanctify us and find us blameless at the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, because “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do this.”
John: John the Baptist is depicted as the forerunner to Jesus in all four gospels. He wanted to get the people shaped up spiritually and ready for Jesus’ arrival. This week’s gospel message clarifies John’s identity and role. The religious authorities sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to cross-examine him. John says he’s not the Messiah, and he’s not Elijah. They can’t figure him out. they ask, “What do you say about yourself?” He said, quoting Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord.'” So they asked, him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” John is fulfilling his God-given mission to testify to the light of Jesus Christ. And, if you notice, he is telling his questioners that Jesus is already among them on earth. That must have shook them up.