3 Advent, December 17
In roughly the mid-sixth century B.C., after God’s people had suffered the loss of their homeland and temple, they were finally allowed under the rule of Cyrus of Persia to return home from their captivity in Babylon. Arriving, they saw devastation and waste on all sides. Church and state lay in ruin. Their migration home, of course, brought moments of joy and hope, but the vision of a homeland laid waste by war and neglect shook them deeply, so much that they had little choice but to fall upon the faith they had long known, and wait for the Lord.
God was faithful and just. God intervened through his holy prophet. “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 prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn” (Isa. 61:1-2). These are not facile words of comfort spoken by an indifferent and distant party shielded by ease. God acts to provide for those who mourn, and not, of course, only for those in the sixth century B.C. in the land of Israel. In every age and every place, the Son of the Father says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Their comfort is the action and grace of God in Christ.
God acts on behalf of a whole people to restore not only their land and temple, but their collective spirit as well. God “gives a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Isa. 61:3). Imagine, as we should and must, such a promise for our time, a church and a community and a nation in which the joy of one resounds as the joy of each and the shared joy of all. “Oh, how good and pleasant it is when brethren live together in unity” (Ps. 133:1). Such unity is rooted in a righteousness in which the irreducible dignity of persons is acknowledge and respected. Members of the nation are called “oaks of righteousness.”
The prophet, though speaking for the Lord, speaks also for himself, as a person, and thus gives voice to the full life of every person. “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my whole being shall exult in my God” (Isa. 61:10). The same may be said with Christian emphasis, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). God is acting to restore the land, the nation, the temple, and persons, all the way down to the least of these, and God calls upon us to take our part in this great drama.
It has never been easy to work for the continual renewal of the Church, a more just state, a genuine respect for persons, and a proper regard for the land and sea and air and all life. But the joy of the Lord is precisely this work done in ways known and unknown, ways very small and sometimes vast. Christ gave himself for the life of the world, which pattern of self-offering is our own. God shows his strength, brings down the mighty, lifts up the lowly, and fills the hungry with good things. “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this” (1 Thess. 5:24).
Look It Up
Read Luke 1:46b-47.
Think About It
Mary sees her soul grow and her spirit rejoice in giving herself entirely to her Son.