Third Week of Advent
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, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. 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.
These verses from Isaiah were written from among a people experiencing profound loss. They had been exiled from their home, torn from their land—from all that made life make sense. They were living with the sense that God had abandoned them. Much lament and heartache come before this hopeful vision full of possibility.
One of the first public things Jesus did according to the gospel of Luke (chapter 4, verses 14-22) was read some of these words from Isaiah. Jesus did not first demand repentance from people. First, he stood in the spiritual community of his youth and read the words from Isaiah...freedom to those held captive, good news for the poor. Jesus says that God is looking with favor on God’s people, not judgment. He’s letting us know that God shows up first with an open hand to those on the bottom. This grace-filled gesture is what Jesus first points to. This is the kingdom of God that Jesus says is already present among us. If we just wake up to see it.
The 20th century theologian, Paul Tillich, once wrote,
“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life...It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear.”
The author of Isaiah, Jesus, Paul Tillich, they are all trying to tell people in great pain, people like us, that God will keep showing up.
We can live with hope, not because we ourselves necessarily have any. But because God tells us and shows us time and time again—through prophets, through the birth and teachings of Jesus, through tiny moments of grace in our own imperfect days—that we are not alone and that freedom is both here, now, and coming.
Hope drags us out of our beds of despair into the cold streets to stare at the dark horizon and wait for the dawn. We may find ourselves standing, waiting, half asleep and shivering, but God whispers to us, “It may be cold, but I’m still here, the dawn is coming, and I want you to be free.”
Great light of the new dawn, you rise each morning in the face of deep darkness. So may we too find a way to remember the hope that we are called to, and work to plant it in ourselves and in all those whom we encounter. Amen.
Prayer for lighting the third advent candle this week
God give us hope, because we need it.
Ways to try living with hope this week
- Watch the sunrise. In Tucson this week the sun rises at about 7:15 am. Try going outside to watch the sky, and wait for the sunrise. Listen. What is God trying to say to you?
- Light candles of gratitude. Gratitude helps nurture hope. At the end of each day this week, find a few candles, or light the candles on your advent wreath. As you light each one, think of something you were grateful for that day. Another way is to think about the moments of the day in which you felt most alive, or happy. Sit in the silence for a few minutes before you blow the candles out.
- Be kind. Smile at strangers. Offer hope to people who need it.