We celebrate Advent, the arrival of the Lord, mainly for the joy and comfort and mercy found in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We wait for him as if we have not met him, and yet knowing what we do, anticipate his love and mercy and healing.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus entered his hometown synagogue and read from the prophet Isaiah. After reading, he sat down and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus read an abbreviated section of a more extensive prophecy, all of which speaks to the ministry of Jesus.
“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 the vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion — to give them garlands instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations, they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastation of many generations” (Isa. 61:1-7). Hearing these words, we may join our hearts with the consensus of the faithful throughout the centuries. Jesus is our desire, love, joy, longing, and happiness! He is entirely to be loved, worshiped, and praised. He is our Good Shepherd.
Not surprisingly, we find it strange to hear tucked amid so many words of encouragement this ominous phrase, “to proclaim the day of the vengeance of our God” (Isa. 61:2). The vengeance of God against the ungodly is a theme not hard to find in Scripture, but does it apply to Jesus? In a sense, we should be bold to say, “Yes, it does.” Jesus frequently engaged in arguments and conflicts, all of which were ultimately a conflict with sin, the flesh, and the devil. More succinctly, Jesus came to defeat the Evil One, and, to us, this defeat may feel at times like vengeance. We are, as today’s collect says, “sorely hindered by our sins,” and it is precisely this hindrance that Jesus came to strip away and defeat. Jesus comes “to help and deliver,” a rescue operation for our good.
The prophet Isaiah says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in God” (Isa. 61:10). “My whole being” is not available if hindered by sin, which is why sin must be acknowledged and forgiveness sought, not only in every liturgy, but in every moment. The New Being cannot exult wholly until the Old Adam is put to flight.
God wants your soul, your whole being, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord (Magnificat). God wants to sanctify you entirely, to make you a participant in the divine nature by keeping you sound and blameless (I Thess. 5:23). This involves a purgative love. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Stripped and cleansed by the love of Christ, a kind of emptiness results, an awareness that I am here as a witness. John the Baptist said, “I am not the Messiah, I am not, no!” Similarly, we are not the cause of our own salvation. No. We are witnesses, vessels, New Beings. Purged of sin and born again, we shine like the brightness of the sun.
Look It Up: Read the Magnificat.
Think About It: Cast down and sent away empty is the hidden work of love.