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Sermon for December 17, 2017: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon us (The Rev. Walter Ramsey)

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Here we are the Third Sunday of Advent that now marks one week before Christmas, because the fourth Sunday of Advent falls on Christmas Eve. One might say were coming down to the wire and we have just a few days to finish our Christmas preparations. We Christians, that keep Advent, live a dichotomy of quiet waiting for the Nativity and frenetic activities preparing for our celebrations. We also must endure being bombarded by premature Christmas music.

In the season of Advent, a season of waiting, we focus on the coming of Jesus in three ways: His Nativity, His present and His Final Advent.

The readings for this Sunday mesh together well and deal with rejoicing in the Lord — Christian joy — as well as the mission of St. John the Baptist and his connection with Advent preparation. This Sunday is also called Gaudete Sunday, Rejoice Sunday. In Latin Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, Gaudete – Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice. This is, for us, a very familiar line of Scripture.

Today the Third Sunday in Advent is marked by the rose candle. Rose or pink is derived by lightening purple, signifying joy the theme of today. Theologian Henri Nouwen described the difference between joy and happiness this way. “While happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing — sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death — can take that love away.” Thus joy can be present even in the midst of sadness, as the Psalmist said:

May those who sow in tears

reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping,

bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy,

carrying their sheaves.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann reminds us:

“Advent is anticipation of the new community in the world, wrought by the power of Jesus, mandated by the way of Jesus, and living toward the hope of Jesus. … The person of Jesus presses us to think about the people of Jesus.”

In our first lesson for today, we hear the prophet Isaiah proclaim:

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;

This passage from Isaiah is familiar to us, because it is the one Jesus read in his hometown Synagogue in Nazareth.

These verses are about salvation as well as mission. Salvation that the Prophet speaks of is freedom from captivity, slavery, and a return to and restoration of Zion; about justice and quality of life and that reflects God’s desires for the human community. The Good News that is a reference to the Jubilee Year, the year of the Lord’s favor, when debts are forgiven, indentured servants allowed to return home, property returned to its original owners. The restored Israel living as a Jubilee community is God’s sign to the nations of the world of God’s blessing. This good news of salvation is not some future reward like going to heaven, as wonderful as this may be, but living in the kingdom of heaven under the Reign of God here and now.

At the beginning of his Ministry on earth Jesus used this passage from Isaiah as his mission statement at his Advent as the Messiah. Indeed, this is our mission statement through him.

What does our mission look like and what is it that we are called to do?

Mission happens when we turn our attention to those who are named as the recipients of the good news: the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners, the mournful, the faint of spirit. It is evident in these lines from Isaiah that God’s special concern is for the lowest and weakest and Jesus continually championed the same in His ministry.

Mission is not primarily something that goes out from God’s people—by sending money or sending missionaries as good and righteous as these are —but something that defines God’s people, as existing for the sake of the oppressed, brokenhearted, imprisoned, and mournful. Mission happens when the nations of the world notice that the people of God live differently, and are drawn to the ways of God by it. As Isaiah said, “they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.” This is kind of a sacramental enacting of the salvation toward which it points. (1) Isaiah imagines “all the nations” streaming to a glorified Jerusalem.

To be missional is to live as a people of good news, liberation, justice, and comfort in such a way that the world may take notice. Unfortunately, if Christians live as divided people, known to the world as those who judge, fight, and exclude, the church will fail to be missional, no matter how much money it gives and how many missionaries it sends.

The Very Rev. Michael Curry, our presiding Bishop reminds us that we are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. Similarly, we are the Diocese of California branch of the Episcopal Church and we here at Grace are a branch of the Diocese of California, and even though the Jesus Movement may have family arguments and disagreements if we are of one mind and spirit of Christ we live a Jubilee life.

Jesus declared himself to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy to be God’s light in the world and John the Baptist testified to that light. That he would bring salvation to all who believe in him. And we who make up his body in the world carry on his mission to bring good news, healing, and release. As we quietly wait through the last days of Advent, let us remember not just that Jesus came but why Jesus came—to usher in a jubilee celebration that would have no end. Gaudete – Rejoice!

Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) (Kindle Locations 1978-1980). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition

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