December 12, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Isaiah 61:1-3 (NRSV)
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.
As when we meditate on how to prepare for Christmas in new ways in a time when COVID-19 has upended all of our familiar cultural rituals and familiar liturgical observances, Isaiah 61 has an especially comforting note. Someone is coming who will bind up our wounds.
Usually, when I spend time with you in this space, I look at two of the four readings which the Revised Common Lectionary prescribes for this coming Sunday. Today and tomorrow, though, I’m going to spend all of my time in the Old Testament reading, because it is so rich. I encourage you to go and read the others—they are all marvelous.
Why, in the season of Advent as we prepare for the birth of Christ, do I want to spend the whole weekend hanging out in the Old Testament? Well, one reason is that I simply love this chapter of Isaiah. I told the story some months ago about taking 1 Peter 2:9-10 as a life verse, but if I had to nominate a secondary life verse it would be the first few verses of Isaiah 61. Like 1 Peter 2:9-10, they came into my life in a new way when I was in a place of darkness, and they have stayed with me ever since.
Also, the prophecies of Isaiah have a very strong association with the Advent and Christmas seasons. As a musician, I have to say that I may partially think this because I have sung Messiah so many times! George Frederick Handel wrote the music of Messiah, as many of you probably already know, but the libretto (text) was compiled by a man named Charles Jennens, and he used Isaiah more than he used any other Biblical book—21 different verses used in 11 different songs. (You can read more about that here if you are curious).
But one of the key reasons to spend so much time in Isaiah, and with this text in particular, is that Jesus used it to interpret and announce his own ministry in Luke 4:16-20. As we spend time in Advent looking towards Jesus’s first coming and his second coming, we may wonder what kind of King it is that we await and what it is that he wants us to do. Isaiah 61, part of a long vision about the restoration of Israel, tells us that our mission for that King, and for the Kingdom he restores, is to preach good news, tend to the brokenhearted, comfort the mourning, and liberate the oppressed. (If this sounds familiar, it was also a message we heard a few weeks ago from Ezekiel 34—it is, for sure, a common theme in the Old Testament prophetic books!) And we know from Luke 4 that Jesus takes this as his mission, too.
As when we meditate on how to prepare for Christmas in new ways in a time when COVID-19 has upended all the old ways, all our familiar cultural rituals and familiar liturgical observances, Isaiah 61 has—for me at least—an especially comforting note. So many of us are mourning in Zion. So many of us are brokenhearted. So many of us do not know which way to turn.
Here, though, we have a promise—a promise that is so beautiful it is almost hard to grasp. Someone is coming who will bind up our wounds. Someone is coming this Christmas Day to do just that.
What wounds do you need Jesus to bind up?
Where can you bind up the wounds of others?
Listen to another great prophecy of comfort from Isaiah—the tenor recitative “Comfort Ye” which begins the entire Messiah oratorio. (The text is from Isaiah 40:1-3). Think about the ways in which you need the comfort of Christ and the ways you can comfort others. Do something to comfort someone else that is prompted by this time of prayer.
Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to me in the darkness. Thank you for binding up my wounds. Thank you for bringing me freedom and joy and gladness. May I always feel and know your love and power. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: When the Messiah Is Not Who You Expected
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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