God's Word on Sunday: The good news is meant for all on Earth

  • December 15, 2023

Third Sunday of Advent (Year B) Dec. 17 (Isaiah 61:1-3a, 10-11; Luke 1; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28)

What does a message from God sound like? Isaiah sets the tone for the divine revelation and visitation that is repeated by Jesus in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. A message from God is good news and the source of joy. Good news for whom? For those most in need of it — the poor, the broken-hearted, the downtrodden and for those who are oppressed or lacking freedom. Missing from the list are the high and mighty, the arrogant, the violent and those who perpetrate the injustice and oppression present in our world.

The prophecy promises liberation and freedom. The prophet is overwhelmed with joy at the privilege of being the bearer of such good news and experiences the sort of exaltation that a bejeweled bride might feel. The good news is recognized as God’s work, for God causes goodness and righteousness to grow all over the world, even (especially) in the midst of darkness. The good news must be good news to all. It must touch and take hold of the hearts and sacred imagination of those who receive it.

In our own setting, the good news must be addressed to both Israelis and Palestinians, Russians and Ukrainians, people of every ethnicity and community, to those whose lives have disintegrated, to the homeless, to LGBTQ people, to liberals and conservatives and to the angry and alienated. It must give hope to all and convey the message that each and every soul is loved and is precious to God and that God desires blessings and good for all.

Will the message be received by all? Probably not — but it must be delivered and heard. Our own lives must be witnesses to this good news, for if it is not evident in our thoughts, words and deeds, then the message is undelivered. The good news is the gracious and compassionate kindness of our God. We have been called to a privileged mission of revealing God to the world — let us not fail in that goal.

Paul urged his followers to rejoice always — in every circumstance — and pray without ceasing. This might strike some as a Pollyana attitude, but it is not. We will still have to navigate many rough and even painful times in our lives, but we will have the knowledge that God is totally present to us at all times. Being rigid and narrow-minded is not a virtue but a hindrance. Paul advises testing all things without fear, keeping what is good and helpful and leaving aside what is not. Above all, we are not to quench the Spirit. People often do this because they are afraid, as the Spirit’s agenda is not ours and it will lead us where we would rather not go. 

John the Baptist had quite an interrogation at the hands of the delegation from the Jerusalem authorities. They wanted to know who he was and what his role was in the grand plan. They went down the checklist of possibilities, starting at the top, and John denied them all. He was not the Messiah, nor was he Elijah. He was not the Prophet, who was an enigmatic and nameless individual expected by many in the first century. He did not fit any of the categories in the tradition, and when Jesus came, He did not either. Neither of them could be contained in any concept, name or symbol. 

When the exasperated delegation asked who he was if not any of those possibilities, John alluded to chapter 40 of Isaiah — the voice crying in the wilderness. His job was to prepare the way and make straight the ways of the Lord. He would baptize them with water, but he assured them that they had not seen anything yet. After him would come one who was so far above John that he felt unworthy to undo His sandals. And He would baptize them with fire — the Spirit of the Living God.

That must have been some report the delegation took back to Jerusalem.

God’s work in the world is not finished; humanity is a work in progress. Each day the Lord asks us who we are. How do we answer? Making straight the way of God and transforming our minds and hearts is our constant goal for there is much to be done, and we are a vital part.