December 13, 2020
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
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.
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.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for God has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is God’s Name.
God has mercy on those who fear the Holy One
in every generation.
God has shown the strength of her arm,
She has scattered the proud in their conceit.
They have cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
God has come to the help of her servant Israel, *
for god has remembered their promise of mercy,
The promise she made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Isaiah and Mary both encounter the rebirth of the Grace of God in their times. Their words arise in the midst of the Babylonian Exile for Isaiah, and the Roman occupation of ancient Palestine for Mary. The Spirit of the living God is poured out on both of them, with similar promises of God’s presence, and acts of powerful justice making. They may be separated by centuries, but their voices join together in a harmony that looks forward to the Liberation of God’s beloved’s, the coming comfort of those who mourn, the tearing of tyrants from their thrones, the rising of songs of praise for all things being made new.
It can be hard to rest in the promises of God when so much around us is shifting. For both of these poets, these singers of God’s love, the moment they find themselves in is new, unique, unlike anything their people, or themselves, have faced before. And yet the old promises of God, for comfort, for healing and wholeness and justice, they are reborn in new ways, new verses to an old tune.
I have experienced this, not across centuries, but in the span of my life, and I imagine, you may have as well.
The first time I caught a glimpse of what God’s love and grace could mean for my life, when I started to risk believing that maybe, just maybe, these promises were for the lives of those around me, and maybe even myself, came to me the summer after Eighth grade. That year my mother had survived a heart attack, and I was starting to realize that I wasn’t straight.. I felt like many young people do at some point in our lives; alone, confused, and frustrated. At the encouragement of my Pastor and his wife, I went to a week of Church Camp on the Oregon Coast. Something about being away gave me a sense of possibility. Living in that kind of community for the first time, surrounded by kids my own age, away from my small town and the way others had seen me for so long, I realized just how lonely I had been. I felt free in a way that somehow made me feel more like myself, with new friends that I could dream with, a space where I could step into a new version of myself that somehow had been within me all along. At the end of my time at camp, at our closing campfire, I let the sounds of the acoustic guitar wash over me, the wood smoke like incense rising up, and I let myself pray, unguarded, hopeful, feeling renewed. For the first time in my life I felt God’s presence, heavy like a blanket over my shoulders. I felt at home surrounded by a kind of Love I had been longing for, but didn’t think was possible. My concerns, my questions, they didn’t go away, but it was like I could face them with a strength that came from beyond my own abilities. Everything that made me feel small, homophobia, my toxic homelife with my Dad, the fear of my mother dying, the bully’s at school, all of it felt like it had already been overcome, just a little bit. I realized that whatever this experience was, this was what I wanted my life to be about. I wanted to be able to create these kind of moments, this peace, this sense of possibility, of not being alone, I wanted to be a part of offering this grace and love and acceptance from God to others.
Throughout the years, I have found in different moments, with different struggles and challenges, moments where this peace has returned, giving me the courage to risk playing my part in God’s dreams for the world, being the person I most deeply wanted to be in the communities I am apart of, knowing in my bones that all that oppresses has, somehow, already been defeated by vulnerable, gracious love. And each time, that vision of what my life could be, while it was the same melody, it was a rebirth of new possibilities, in a changing world. The promises have taken on new meanings, from working with folks in the Suburbs of New Jersey struggling with addiction, chronic illness and disability, to serving alongside folks experiencing poverty and homelessness, and young adults working in social services, to being in this family of faith. But the promises of being loved, of hope for justice and wholeness remain the same.
For Mary, for Isaiah, the promises of God stay constant, but their fresh expression in their time and place, they are surprising. Their voices give testimony to the rebirth of hope in uncertain times, through the vulnerable embracing the truth that they are God’s Beloved. God is still with us, they whisper. The Holy One is making the world anew, they sing. In their words, their songs, in the harmonies of their fears, dreams, and hopes, new life, God’s presence in new ways, emerges, different words to an old melody.
This week, as we journey closer to Christmas, in a time when the world is sitting in ashes, as the fires of hatred burn, as neglect for the common life kills our neighbors, our family, our friends, my prayer for you is that you might encounter God’s old promises being reborn in our midst. For those of us in our 20’s, we are seeing our dreams for the future come in conflict with the greed of those in power. And yet, a new song of faith is emerging. For those of us who are middle-aged, who have to decide what direction to go, making choices that cut off other possibilities, we can find ourselves feeling alone. And yet, verses of new hope are forming in many of our hearts as we see a new way to live our lives that embraces what we know to be true. Those of us with children of our own, the world our kids live in can feel scary and beyond anything we have experienced before. And yet, our voices are finding new harmonies of Love to join with. For those of us who are recently retired, it can feel particularly daunting to try to engage in our passions in this moment. And yet, joy’s resilient voice can be found in our land. For those of us drawing closer to the end of our lives, as we share the wisdom of our lives, and delight in the blessings of others, we can feel unprepared for this moment. And yet, Christ our Companion remains. For our children, there are promises entrusted to our care to pass along, knowing that God will raise new verses throughout their lives. For you, in this moment of your life, I wonder what old promises from God you have seen reborn throughout your years? Because the song of Isaiah and Mary, it echoes through our world to this day, and we have a part to sing, a harmony, not quite the same as it may have been in the past, but shaped by God’s dreaming of a new world, the Spirit’s continuing work to make all things new. Alongside Mary, like Isaiah, we are invited this advent to magnify, to sing out, the rebirth of God’s all promises in our lives, our community, our time. May we join the song.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God and Mother of us All, Amen.