God's Word on Sunday: Good news found in God's blessings

  • December 16, 2017
3rd Sunday of Advent, Dec. 17 (Year B) Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; Luke 1:46-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

We would all welcome a bit of good news. This seems to be a very rare commodity these days, but it has probably almost always been the case.

The people in the first century lived in times as difficult and threatening as our own, although the stakes were probably not as high. The passage from Isaiah should sound familiar to us. In Luke’s Gospel, this is the “good news” Jesus read in the synagogue in his hometown.

He proclaimed that this prophecy was fulfilled in Him, a message that was not received with great enthusiasm. After all, the speaker in the prophecy claimed to be an emissary of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

We might ask how quoting an ancient prophecy given centuries before could speak to people in the first century or for that matter our own time. There are still so many people who suffer oppression, lack of freedom, grief and disease — so what about that promise?

The prophecy was originally given in the period after the exile, perhaps the fifth century BC. Things were not going well. The people suffered from poverty, oppression and loss of hope. It spoke to the Jewish people and was meant to reassure them that they were not being punished. God would visit them soon and, as a sign of God’s compassionate mercy, they would enjoy God’s special favour. The many burdens would be lifted from their shoulders and they would experience God’s nearness and loving kindness. It was never intended as a promise that all suffering would be eradicated from the Earth forever.

They were blessed by God in the period in which the prophecy was originally given and then again in the time of Jesus through the healing, comfort and salvation that the Lord brought. God has continued to bless, heal and give hope over the centuries, for that is the nature of God. In these blessings God’s true nature is revealed; divine violence and wrath are usually human projections.

Jesus continues the ministry that He proclaimed in the synagogue that day and invites — perhaps even commands — that we share in it. Giving hope to a dark and fear-filled world and easing the burdens of those who suffer or struggle is the holiest thing that we can do. The blessing continues; let us not be left behind — much depends on us.

How does one pray without ceasing? Many of the desert fathers of the early Church wrestled with Paul’s perplexing exhortation. Prayer is an inner state or disposition and need not — and most often does not — require words. At the core of unceasing prayer is gratitude, again a constant state of mind or disposition, as well as loving kindness.

Paul also advises us not to be afraid of the Spirit and certainly not to stifle it, either in ourselves or in others. Let it flow through us, taking us where we would rather not go and transforming us into what we never dared to imagine.

John the Baptist received quite an interrogation. The delegation from the Jerusalem authorities wanted to know his identity and by what authority he preached and baptized. As they went down their checklist, John replied in the negative to each one. He was not the Messiah nor Elijah or the prophet to come.

The perplexed and irritated interrogators wanted an answer to take back to their bosses. Who are you and why are you baptizing if you are not Elijah or one of the prophets? His answer was simple: His job was to bear witness to the one far greater than he and then to decrease and disappear.

Once again, God’s comfort and healing were being sent into the world, but this time it was coming in the form of the Spirit. Isaiah’s gift would be the indwelling Spirit of God that heals the brokenhearted, liberates hearts and minds, and gives hope and new life. With God’s Spirit within us, we can never say that we are alone, that God doesn’t care or that our lives don’t matter.

Regardless of what goes on around us in this world, God is in us and we are in God if our minds and hearts are open to it. And that is good news indeed. 

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