ISAIAH 61:1-4; LUKE 4:16-30

DECEMBER 6, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)


            It’s often insightful to read letters that children write to Santa. For example, one child wrote:


            Dear Santa,

            Could you come early this year?  I’ve been really super good, but I don’t know if I can last much longer. Please hurry. Love, Jordan.


            Now there’s an honest child. Here’s another letter:


            Dear Santa,

            Mommy says that you only bring presents for good little boys. That isn’t fair. (Signed) Brian.


            Sounds like Brian has already failed the “being good” test. The one I like the most, however, comes from Jenny:


            Dear Santa,

            Please give me a doll this year. I would like her to eat, walk, do my homework, and help me clean my room. Thank you. Jenny.


            I understand Jenny’s mother has asked Santa for that identical doll.

          Our advent sermon series this year comes from the beginning words of an old camp song, “Announcements, Announcements, Announcements,” and last Sunday we looked at John the Baptist’s announcement of the coming of Christ and this Sunday our announcement comes from the lips of Jesus, himself.

            Go back in time with me to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He was making the rounds in Galilee, teaching in small-town synagogues … and he was gaining quite a following. Then he went back home to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went to the synagogue as was his custom. As there were no permanent rabbis in most small villages, itinerant ones were always welcomed. Hearing he was in town, the leader of the synagogue invited him to teach and the synagogue was packed with people. A celebrity, straight from their little town, was among them.

            He stood up to read and the leader of the synagogue handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling it, he found the passage and he read these words:


            The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.



          Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the leader of the synagogue and sat down. Luke tells us that the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. Then he said something breath-taking. He said to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

            We won’t spend much time on what came next. Basically, he got into hot water after someone asked him a follow-up question, and he answered by using Old Testament examples of God’s love extending to Gentiles, and this did not sit well with the crowd. The crowd turned on him, drove him out of the town, and marched him to the edge of a cliff upon which the town was built. They intended to toss him off the edge, but he stared them down and went on his way.

            Jesus’ words taken from the mouth of Isaiah come as close as anything in the Gospels to being his mission statement. The words consist of a series of announcements declaring what he is all about. There are five of them … bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, but in interest of time let’s focus on just three of them.

            Let’s begin with the first of these announcements: “bringing good news to the poor.”

            I’m sure what we did yesterday at Neighbors United put a smile on Jesus’ face. I’m also sure that having a hot meal was a bit of good news to those we served. A concern for the poor was always on Jesus’ heart, but there are different ways of being poor … being poor in spirit for one … and maybe, just maybe we are poorer than we think.

            I think of one poor fellow who said he was so heavily in debt that he's known as the "Leaning Tower of Visa.”

            A woman lunching in a local restaurant noticed a friend nibbling at a cottage cheese salad.

            "Trying to lose weight?" she asked.

            "No," the friend said, "I'm on a low salary diet."

            Some of us know about low salary diets. But we're not poor. Or are we?

            Mother Teresa certainly thought so. I had the privilege of personally hearing her speak. I was a delegate at our denomination’s General Assembly and she keynoted one of the gatherings. I came early that morning and got a front row seat. I was about as far from her as I am the Peterson’s this morning. It was one of the highlights of my life.

            Anyway, in an article about her in Time magazine she was asked about the materialism of the West. She said, "The more you have, the more you are occupied," she contends. "But the less you have, the more free you are. Poverty for us is a freedom. It is a joyful freedom. There is no television here, no this, no that. This is the only fan in the whole house...and it is for the guests. But we are happy.”

            "I find the rich poorer," she continues. "Sometimes they are more lonely inside ...The hunger for love is much more difficult to fill than the hunger for bread."  Mother Teresa certainly brought good news to the poor and that was job one on Jesus’ mission statement. 

            A second part of his mission statement was “to let the oppressed go free.” According to Webster an “oppressed” person is someone subject to harsh and authoritarian treatment. Like the word “poor” we here in America might not think of ourselves as being “oppressed,” but what about the oppressive power of sin? Anyone who has struggled with breaking a bad habit or who has vowed to be more patient but can’t seem to pull that off, knows the oppressive power of sin.  So we may not think of ourselves here in America as “oppressed” people, but oppression comes in different forms.     

            Maybe you have seen the movie Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace is a 2006 American-British biographical drama about the campaign against slave trade in the British Empire, led by William Wilberforce, who steered anti-slave trade legislation through the British parliament. The film also recounts the experiences of John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace” as a crewman on a slave ship and his subsequent religious conversion, which inspired his writing of the poem later used in the hymn. Newton is portrayed as a major influence on Wilberforce and the abolition movement. Newton lives out his later years with the ghosts of twenty thousand slaves haunting him in the night, but he proclaims, “I am a great sinner, but I have found a Great Savior.” What the movie does not include is the fact that slavery was finally outlawed in England on July 26, 1833. William Wilberforce died three days later. If you love the hymn “Amazing Grace,” I recommend the movie.

            John Newton, influenced by his Great Savior, worked on letting the oppressed go free.  Jesus’ followers of every generation have done the same.

            And one thing more. Christ came to announce “the year of the Lord’s favor.” What does “the year of the Lord’s favor” mean? It is related to the Old Testament idea of the “Year of Jubilee” mentioned in Leviticus 25 when slaves would be freed, debts cancelled, land rested, and compassionate help would be given to those in need. Jubilee was a time when God would hit the reset button giving everyone and everything to start fresh, to start anew.

            The year of the Lord’s favor also suggested the concept of God’s grace, God’s favor, that Christ was bringing in the flesh. In fact in Christ, humanity’s relationship with God was moving from an atmosphere of fear to an atmosphere of love.

            As we noted, Christ’s mission statement came from Isaiah, but it’s interesting, he didn’t complete Isaiah’s thought. Listen as I read from Isaiah and see if you hear something that Jesus didn’t say,


            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 ...


            Did you catch that? Jesus left off the part about “the day of vengeance of our God.” Do you suppose that was an accident or did he do this on purpose? Could this be part of his mission to correct how people saw God, to reset our understanding of who God is?

            I heard about two children who were talking about the Bible. One of them was quite upset about some of the atrocities that are found in the Old Testament. The other of them, a little girl, thought for a moment and then said, “Those things must have happened before God became a Christian.”

            Well, in a sense, that’s true. Our scripture for today originated with Isaiah, but our understanding of Isaiah’s words is from Christ.

            A new understanding of God came into the world with Jesus. We are living in the light of the star of Bethlehem. Welcome to the year of the Lord’s favor.