Sunday, December 25, 2011

God Is For Us!

Thanks to the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton, whose sermon on "The Lectionary Lab" helped greatly in the writing of the sermon, and to Kiezha Smith Ferrell for reassuring me that it didn't stink.

Isaiah 52:7-10
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion.
Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”?
Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.”
But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”

John 1:1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

This is the Word of the Lord.

I think it’s interesting that, on Christmas Day, the Lectionary Gospel reading isn’t the birth narrative from Matthew or Luke’s Gospel, but John’s great creation hymn. It is as if God – or, I suppose, the lectionary Elves – are saying to us, hey, we’ve looked in the manger, we’ve met the shepherds, and we’ve seen the child. We now know the “what.” Let’s talk about “Who,” and let’s talk about “why.”

I’m betting that you’ve heard your share of Christmas music this past couple of months. I used to say that I didn’t like Christmas music, but what I’ve come to see a need to clarify is that it’s not the hymns and carols that get on my nerves, I love those. I wouldn’t mind singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” all year long. It’s the novelty songs that bother me – the ones that are funny once, but by the seventy-eighth time I hear it that day, I’m over my initial delight, if you know what I mean.

But there’s one I heard this week that caught my ear. A little boy sings it, and he’s been particularly naughty this year – ants in the sugar, ink on Mom’s rug, a frog in his sister’s bed, you get the idea – so he laments, “I ain’t getting’ nuttin’ for Christmas, Mommy and Daddy are mad, I ain’t getting’ nuttin’ for Christmas, ‘cause I ain’t been nothin’ but bad.”

It occurs to me that, all too often, that’s our idea of how God works. If we’re good, God likes us and does stuff for us, and if we’re bad? Well…

And it fits in with our sense of right and wrong, after all. Good people get good things, and bad people get bad things. Santa Claus comes to all the good little boys and girls, while the naughty ones get coal and sticks in their stockings. God, similarly, punishes bad people and rewards good people. Famous preachers have made the news by blaming earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes on the victims of these natural disasters, and while most of us shake our heads in disgust when Pat Robertson blames sinful Haitians or residents of New Orleans for the death and destruction they have endured, many more support and repeat what he says, because believing these things brings their sense of justice and fairness back into balance.

And this carries over into serious doctrinal positions on why Jesus came to earth as well. Human beings are curious; we seek explanations to the mysteries around us, whether natural, scientific, or spiritual. Thus there are at least as many theologies and theories surrounding Christ’s coming, and his death on the cross, as there are stars in the sky.

One of the more well-known theories of atonement, as they are called, has an angry and wrathful God requiring vengeance for those sins humankind, or at least the bad people, and yes we have a detailed list of those sins, have committed. Jesus voluntarily comes to earth and serves as our substitute, shedding his blood to satisfy God’s thirst for retribution. In effect, God (who, for the purposes of illustration, is an old guy in a white robe with a long, flowing beard, kind of like Gandalf in “Lord of the Rings,” if you will) has his finger on the “smite Earth and kill everyone” button, and Jesus steps in – “don’t kill them, kill me instead!”

I am about to make the most blatantly obvious statement I have made this year. That’s quite a stretch, I know, but I think you’ll agree. Ready?

God is not that simple.

God cannot be distilled down to simple cause-and-effect. God is neither a light switch or a vending machine. We cannot control how God will act based on our behavior. And we cannot separate the actions and intentions of one Person of the Trinity from any other Person of the Trinity. God isn’t that simple.

Imagine, if you will, the Nativity. You know the scene, Mary kneeling at the manger, Joseph standing close by, the shepherds in a semicircle, animals looking on in awe. If you want to, you can even have the Three Wise Men there. Don’t worry about the chronology or historical accuracy of the scene, imagine whatever works for you. You can even have the manger glowing brightly, if you like.

Think of this: the baby that’s in that manger? The infant that the shepherds are staring at, the one that the Little Drummer Boy is about to start playing for (hey, if that’s what’s in your nativity scene, fine) – that’s not some messenger from God, that’s not just God’s designated punching bag, that’s not even a lesser-than kind of god.

The writer of Hebrews looks in that manger and says, “…God … has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”

The Apostle John looks in that manger and says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Don’t ask me to explain how, because I can’t. But that baby? That is God.

I’m pretty sure that no one really understands the weight of that fact. I know that I don’t.

But I am pretty sure that if this baby is God, Jesus isn’t some kind of cosmic “Plan B.” I’m reasonably confident that, if this baby is God, Jesus isn’t some lesser heavenly being who stepped in at the last minute to keep a ravenously bloodthirsty, all-powerful deity from smushing us all under a holy thumb. If that baby is God, well, the whole good-cop, bad-cop theory of atonement goes right out the door.

Think of it! “The Word became flesh!” God came here! To us!

God is not finished with us! God is not looking for an excuse to crush us… God isn’t even angry with us! God is not against us – and never has been. In fact, “God (is) with us!” – Emmanuel!

There is no naughty-or-nice list with God. The fact is, we can’t do anything “good” enough to reach God, and honestly, left to our own devices, without the grace of God, none of us would have the slightest interest in even trying.

God entered into the world not because of certain bad people here and there, but because the whole place, everyone, the world, is messed up, and can find no way out.

The Christ was born at a time of political and social unrest: Israel was a conquered country, living under the domination of the Romans, ruled by the cruel King Herod. When Christ came, there was hunger and social injustice and war raged upon innocents, all in the name of such things as Truth and Justice. Then as now, the old values had become skewed and obscured and unrecognizable, and no one knew whom they could trust.

And into such a world God sent the Son.

The message then and the message now is that we are not alone in the midst of the world’s evil.

God has come to us in the midst of our distress. In the middle of our loneliness and despair,
God has sent us a sign of his love. Into a world filled with hopelessness, God comes to us in the hopeful form of new life and new birth.

Christ came to be a beacon of light in a dark world.

Christ came to show us love in the midst of hatred and strife.

Christ came to bring life in the midst of death. Christ came to preach, teach, heal, suffer and die.

This Christmas Day, let us rejoice in the knowledge that whoever we are – no matter our income or class, race or gender, political affiliation or nationality – God is for us, and God is with us!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

"Then the Angel Departed..."

Credit for the direction this sermon took goes to Connie Waters. My thanks to Kathryn Matthews Huey for her excellent commentary, which helped me immensely (as is often the case).

I was tempted to base this sermon on Roger Wolsey's excellent blog post, "Jesus' Mom Was A Punk." I didn't, because sometimes these sermons write themselves in a different direction. Perhaps next year...

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.”
But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.
Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.

Romans 16:25-27
Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

This is the Word of the Lord.

“Then the angel departed from her.”

And Mary sat there in the darkness. No one else in the tiny house stirred – no one had heard the conversation. What had just happened? Had it really happened at all, this conversation with an angel? Mary tried to think of anyone who had spoken to an angel since the time of Abraham and Sarah, but it made her head hurt.

Instead, she lay back down, and mulled the conversation over in her head.

The angel’s first words had awakened her, but if she’d been wide awake when he… or she? It? …had spoken, the words would have still made little sense: “Greetings, favored one!” "Favored one?" Her? After all, she’s just Mary, just another teenager in a nothing town in the middle of nowhere. And a girl, at that. Everyone knew that women didn’t get to make many of their own choices. Her father decided who she would marry, and her husband-to-be would decide where she lived, she would cook what he liked to eat, when he liked to eat it; she would bear his children and wash and mend his clothes and go with him to synagogue, just as her mother did, and her mother’s mother, and as far back as time itself. It wasn’t a bad life, per se, but to call it “favored” was a bit of a stretch.

Just as it had begin to dawn on her that it might not be the best of situations, this stranger in her room and all, the angel – deep down, Mary thought she had known from the beginning that this… person? …was an angel – spoke again. Don’t be afraid, he (?) said, and the thing about being favored by God again. Then, “You will conceive and bear a son, named Jesus. He’ll be great, he’ll be called the Son of God. He will restore the throne of David, and reign over Israel forever.”

Now, Mary knew all about the Messiah, the one who was to come and restore Israel to her former glory. The promise of the Redeemer was a source of strength when the tax collector came to town, when her father lost a days’ work carrying a soldier’s pack, when the crops were failing and it didn’t make sense to go on another day. Mary might have been “just” a girl, but she knew the burning desire that all of Judea shared to have the oppressive boot of Rome removed from the throat of the Jewish people!

Of course it had to happen! Messiah had to come! But why her, she wondered. And more than that, how?

It may be a bit of artistic license, but Mary strikes me as the kind of person who never met a question she couldn’t ask. Maybe she had inherited the job of milking the family goat early on because she had asked how to do it. Perhaps she occasionally shocked the younger rabbis in the synagogue by daring to ask questions about the teachings – the older ones had long ago gotten used to her cheekiness, and now rather enjoyed her genuine curiosity. I imagine she secretly hoped that Joseph, her husband-to-be, would show her how his carpentry tools worked.

And unlike far too many people, both in the Scriptures and in real life, who laugh and reject the will of God for themselves when a messenger delivers that news, Mary instead reacts with bold curiosity: “How exactly is all this going to work?”

The angel explains that God will be the child’s father. In fact, as proof that God could do whatever God chooses, even now Elizabeth, who had been childless and was now too old to hope to have a baby, was six months along in her own God-ordained pregnancy!

Mary’s head swam. What the angel was suggesting – the very idea! This “favor” she had somehow found with God was staggering, the implications immeasurable. God intended to put things right with the world through the promised Messiah, but in doing so, Mary’s world would be turned irrevocably upside-down.

The angel had not, at any point, asked Mary what her opinion was in the matter. Mary was, of course, use to this kind of thing; a girl not yet fourteen, no one asked her what she thought, there weren’t may opportunities for her to make choices. Her father told her who to marry, her mother told her what to wear, she never went anywhere alone, and it never occurred to her to think this was wrong.

But now, the angel waited. Waited for her to answer, to make a choice, to say yes or no to the task set before her.

The angel waits for Mary’s “yes.” God waits for Mary’s “yes.” All of creation waits; Adam and Eve wait, the dead in the underworld wait; the angels wait.

With Mary’s “yes,” her reputation would be ruined. Mary’s “yes” would destroy her chances of marrying Joseph, forever brand her as a harlot, a loose woman, and it may well get her stoned to death! If Mary said “yes,” how was she going to explain this to her family? What would she say to her friends, and how would she face Joseph, who, though he was older, and a successful, sought-after artisan, always looked at her with such kindness, such love?

But with Mary’s “yes,” hope is enlivened and history is changed. Say “yes,” Mary, and there is an unimaginable future for all people, a future that comes from God. With Mary’s “yes,” all nations assemble in justice, compassion and gratitude. Salvation is created among us, and the fate of history is altered by a godly presence.

I cannot in good faith imagine that it ever crossed Mary’s mind to tell the angel thanks for the opportunity, but please go and ask someone else. What was it that angel had said? “Nothing will be impossible with God.” The Scriptures were packed with the stories of how God had made the impossible a reality – parting the Red Sea, feeding the children of Israel with manna, bringing down the walls of Jericho, raising the dead, cleansing the leper, causing the sun to stop in the sky, fire from heaven and water from a rock…

Mary didn’t have the benefit of higher Biblical criticism to help her determine which stories were likely redactions and insertions from this or that group of writers; she didn’t see the accounts of God’s mighty acts as something to be taught to children and enjoyed by adults as stories with an important moral to help us all in our daily lives. Please understand that I love Biblical scholarship, and I enjoy learning all that I can about both higher and lower Biblical criticism, textual analysis, and history, from a wide variety of perspectives, but there’s something to be said for just believing that “nothing will be impossible with God.”

I wonder what would happen if we all believed – really believed, and by that I mean didn’t just say it or think it but acted like “nothing will be impossible with God?” What if we said “yes” to God? What could we change? What brokenness in ourselves could be healed, and what brokenness in this world – poverty, racism, war, classism, genocide, greed, hatred – could be healed if we, like Mary, said “yes” to God – if we, too, truly believed that “nothing will be impossible for God?”

The angel waits, and, finally, Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” And with that, salvation was born. This salvation resides in the hearts of those who believe in the gift, who know that, in Jesus Christ, salvation has come, and who stay awake eagerly, awaiting its coming. With David we await it, with the nations we long for it, and with Mary we behold it.

And for Mary, the morning will bring a whirlwind. She cannot know, laying in her little bed in that little house in that little town, that Joseph himself will meet an angel, that somehow he will remain and will marry her, and that he will raise this child, God’s own son, as his own. She cannot now see the miracles, she cannot now hear the words of God which will fall from the mouth of her son, she cannot yet see the cross, the shame, the horror, and she cannot yet comprehend the Resurrection that will bring salvation to herself and the entire world. All this will come. But for now?

For now, her eyes grow heavy, her heart is at peace, and she sleeps.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sound The Ram's Horn!

I'm indebted to the writings of Andre TrocmeJimmy Spencer Jr., and Walter Brueggeman for planting the seeds for this sermon.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

John 1:6-8, 19-28
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,
 “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 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.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

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.

This is the Word of the Lord.

It’s “Joy” Sunday in the Advent season, and we’ve lit the pink candle! Every week the sanctuary is ever so much brighter as another candle in the wreath burns.

But for the citizens of Jerusalem, the men and women who Isaiah speaks to this week, the idea of joy is laughable. Bit by bit, those who had been exiled to Babylon, and more likely their children or grandchildren, were returning to the rubble of their city. For some, their homes and their land had been taken over by squatters. Still others, relying on their reputation and whatever wealth they had hoarded up during the exile, took back what was theirs, and more. What little was built back was getting done slowly, and people were falling deeper and deeper in debt to lenders who cared little for the Biblical mandate against charging interest. More and more people went to debtor’s prison, and had their children sold into slavery.

This was not the way it was supposed to be.

What happened to the Jerusalem that Isaiah cried out to in last week’s reading? The people who were being comforted because they had paid double for their sins?

Well, “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it.” Just as Isaiah had foreseen, the people of Jerusalem, far from learning the lesson the exile was meant to teach them, had withered in their resolve, had faded in their faithfulness, had gone back to their old oppressive, unjust ways.

Now, there is something going on in our Isaiah passage this morning that isn’t obvious at first glance. The language, in addition to being poetic and beautiful, is revolutionary in what it is proclaiming. So revolutionary, in fact, that when Jesus read these words in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, and proclaimed them fulfilled, those listening tried to kill him!

For background, we need to go back to the 25th chapter of the book of Leviticus. The Children of Israel, this recently-freed nation of slaves, was en route to a homeland they had never seen, set to inherit homes they had not built, orchards and fields they had not planted, riches beyond their wildest dreams! But God intended for the nation of Israel to be ever mindful that they – like us – owe everything they have to God.

So every fiftieth year, any land which had been sold was returned to the seller; any persons who had sold themselves into slavery were freed; any money owed was forgiven. The slate was wiped clean. Sure, fifty years is a long time, and yes, adjustments in how much land or loans cost would be made based upon how close to that fiftieth year you were, but in the end, on that fiftieth year, when the ram’s horn blew, everything reset at zero. The poor were restored to wholeness, and the rich had just enough.

You can probably imagine how unpopular such an idea would be with those who had wealth, power, and status. To be sure, most scholars think that this “Year of Jubilee” happened rarely, if ever. There were judges who could be bribed, and priests who could be paid to forget what year it was.

And the rich got richer, the poor got poorer.

This is the dark hole of despair into which Isaiah’s words speak. Sound the ram’s horn! Proclaim good news to the oppressed, healing for the brokenhearted, liberty to the slaves, release to the prisoners, comfort for those who mourn – The Year of the Lord’s Favor, Jubilee, is coming!

The late Liberation Theologian Andre Trocme suggests that, when Jesus spoke these words, the rich and powerful understood that he was calling for Jubilee – the restoration of the poor, the cancellation of debts – immediately, and they could not abide such a threat to their wealth. That’s why they immediately tried to kill him, and he escaped by the skin of his teeth.

But I wonder: in the long run, the people who had made their money by cheating the poor, by bribing officials – and this is by no means an indictment of all rich people; I am speaking of a specific situation where, despite the Mosaic Law forbidding charging interest and demanding a Year of Jubilee, people had knowingly and arrogantly broken the law for their personal gain – I wonder if, deep down, after recovering from the shock of the loss, they, too, would have felt a restoration of joy?

You don’t have to look too far to find people who are fabulously rich, but seem miserable. Just about any Hollywood celebrity or reality-show “star” comes to mind. For that matter, Donald Trump never looks happy, either.

How much worse would it be for someone who had climbed to the top on the backs of the poor, overcharging, enslaving, cheating? Wouldn’t you always be looking over your shoulder to see who was going to stab you in the back? There couldn’t be any joy in that kind of life; rather, that person would always be eaten up by worry, scrabbling for more, making sure his back was covered, make sure he knew where his enemies were hiding. Jubilee would, in the end, be a relief, wouldn’t it?

The real gift of joy in the Year of Jubilee, though, was in its reminder that God, and not human beings, truly held the deed on the land the Israelites occupied. God, and not human beings, controlled the wealth in the land. In the Jubilee year, the poor would no longer be poor. Those rendered homeless would get their houses back. Those sold into slavery to pay debts, and those in debtor’s prison, would find freedom, their debts wiped clean.

In the Year of Jubilee, God sets everything right again. Isaiah proclaims that the Year of Jubilee is coming. Jesus confirms, when he reads this passage in the synagogue, that the Year of Jubilee, when God will set everything right again, is, in fact, at hand!

In this Advent season, isn’t this a word for us? In a world where nations, and entire continents, are in near economic collapse, when mortgages are under water and people see no end to debt, when the gap between the rich and poor is growing wider and wider… Sound the ram’s horn! Good news. Healing. Liberty. Release. Comfort.

In this Advent season, isn’t this a word for us? In a world where natural disasters have devastated Haiti and Japan, where years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans still struggles to recover, where places like Tuscaloosa, Hackleburg, Cordova and Pratt City, Alabama, as well as Joplin, Missouri are still picking up the pieces from tornadoes… Sound the ram’s horn! Good news. Healing. Liberty. Release. Comfort.

In this Advent season, isn’t this a word for us? In a world where one in seven people worldwide are hungry, where eleven million people face famine and starvation in eastern Africa, where, right here in the United States, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children are homeless, right now… Sound the ram’s horn! Good news. Healing. Liberty. Release. Comfort.

Advent calls to Jubilee – to reconsider our priorities, to find joy not in how much stuff we have, where we live, who friends us on FaceBook or what team we root for, but – like John the Baptist in our Gospel reading today – in who we point to, who we worship, whose image we reflect.

We, the Body of Christ, are called, as one, 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. We are called to comfort all who mourn… we are called to rebuild the ancient ruins of broken lives, to heal the devastation of hunger and disaster and homelessness, and, like John the Baptist, to proclaim to each and every one, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

In this Advent season, isn’t this a word for us? And isn’t it time? Sound the ram’s horn! Good news. Healing. Liberty. Release. Comfort.