“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 favour .” Isaiah 61:1-2
Why is this morning’s reading from Isaiah so important? Because these are the words Jesus uses when he begins his ministry. Jesus goes into the synagogue and he picks up and reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, he reads the words we read from Isaiah Chapter 61. He is saying he is the fulfilment of the prophecy, that the actions prophesied by Isaiah are the actions that he will perform in his ministry.
It is appropriate in this season of Advent, just two weeks now short of Christmas, that we set down Jesus’ manifesto; that we remind people that he is not about cuddly Christmas pictures and nice Christmas stories. Jesus has set down the values for a Christian community. Believing in the year of the Lord’s favour means starting the work of building communities. Believing in Jesus this Christmas means embracing the values he embraced and seeking the things that he sought.
Jesus comes to preach good news to the poor. Being poor is not just about money, it is about not having what is called ‘social capital’; not having friends and neighbours, having no-one to lean on, having no support and no-one to share your troubles. Some of the richest people I have known have had very little in material terms; they were rich because they were surrounded by a community that knew them and loved them. Our churches should be communities, gatherings where everyone has a place and, if they are not, we should ask whether the spirit of Jesus is really present. If he stood and read from Isaiah in our church, how comfortable would we feel with his words?
Jesus comes to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. Looking at places where there are strong communities, there is little crime. When everyone knows everyone else there is little opportunity for crime. The highest crime rates are in big cities where people become anonymous. Communities discourage crime and they nurture people who are less likely to become involved in crime. If you live in a community where people care about you and where you are respected you haven’t the motivation to break all the ties that mean so much to you, and if you decide you are going to breach the trust of the community in which you live, you are very quickly caught because you cannot go unrecognized. Community is a strong constraint upon selfishness and sinfulness.
Jesus comes to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed. I once read that one of the marks of a community was that no-one should sit at night alone with a sick member of their family. How simple, but how important; just to know that there is another person who cares enough just to be there. I wonder how many people who go to churches Sunday by Sunday are aware of the loneliness that others are enduring, if we don’t, then are we being the sort of people Jesus expects?
There are 101 things, little things, that can be done to support those who suffer or who feel oppressed by their circumstances, just picking up the ‘phone or knocking at the door can make a difference. This is not ambitious, this is not a grand scheme, this is the way things used to be, this is what life is like in a community.
Isaiah’s vision is a disturbing one. It demands commitment. It demands more than a faith that sees being a Christian as saying the right words. It is no good us confessing Jesus Christ as Lord with our words, if our lives contradict every word we say. Sometimes the most religious people are the least Christian. what are we going to do this Christmas to ensure that Jesus’ words are seen as fulfilled in us?
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me”, declares Isaiah. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me”, declares Jesus. The Spirit of the Lord demands radical changes in us—it is no wonder we try to ignore such a Spirit!