Christmas Means Revolution

December 10, 2017 – Pastor Doug Stratton

Isaiah 61:1-3; Luke 1:46-55

61 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

because the Lord has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty

instead of ashes,

the oil of joy

instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise

instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

a planting of the Lord

for the display of his splendor.

Luke 1:46-55

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful

of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

for the Mighty One has done great things for me—

holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,

from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

remembering to be merciful

to Abraham and his descendants forever,

just as he promised our ancestors.”

CCI: God’s mission, proclaimed by Isaiah, echoed by Mary and lived by Jesus, remains the heart of God’s mission today.

Intro: As I was preparing this message, I discovered that 12 years ago, on the third Sunday of Advent, the last Sunday of my ministry in Michigan, I preached from this text in Isaiah. And then, I realized that the text for that last Sunday of my ministry in Michigan was the Old Testament version of the text I had preached from 10 years earlier when New Hope was planted.  Doesn’t God tie up loose ends great?

Intro: One of the most important exercises we can engage in is to ask questions about purpose.  Why am I here?  How can my life be significant?  Who am I called to be?  How do I define success?  In short, when you and I look at who we are, we want to know what our mission is, and if we are living in a way that is consistent with that mission.

Without question, Isaiah 61 gives us one of the most complete statements of God’s mission for his servants in the Bible.  It came to the Jews during the time of restoration when the people were once again asking questions about their identity and their relationship to God.  When they were taken from their homeland and forced to live as refugees in Babylon, they began to ask many questions about who they were and what it meant to be the people of God.  Before the exile, they understood their role to  be the chosen people, a people that God have blessed in special ways.  They were supposed to live in certain ways, treat one another ethically, and most important, they were supposed to worship in the right way.  And that meant in Jerusalem with proper burnt offerings and the right words and songs.

However, suddenly, they were no longer able to worship in Jerusalem, the temple had been destroyed, they had been taken away, the city lay in ruins.  All they thought they knew had been snatched away by a pagan king.  Their home, they temple, their priests, and even their God vanished.  For 70 years the people searched for meaning in their new existence.

Then one day, all that changed and King Cyrus ordered the people to return to their homeland.  The people thought the hard days had ended and they would once again know what it meant to be the chosen people of God.  But when they got back to their land, they found the temple destroyed and their city in ruins.  The dream that glory days would return soon evaporated. The people needed a new identity if they were to move forward.

And so, in this passage, the prophet gave the people a new mission, a new sense of purpose and a new identity that reflected the heart of God.

The mission that we find in Isaiah 61 is the mission Jesus adopted when he began his ministry.  Isaiah said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” And that is where we find our power.  Whether we are in a time of transition, a time of waiting, or a time of plowing ahead, our power comes from the Spirit of the Lord who comes upon us and enables us to serve God.

And the mission the Spirit of God has for the Prophet is to preach good news to the poor. What is that good news? Someone suggested it is the promise that there is a better world awaiting, but would that be good news for a woman who may have to sell her son because she is debt?  Maybe it is good news to hear that your oppressors will get what they deserve.  But how is that going to help your situation?  What is good news for the poor?  I think there are pictures of it all around us.

A number of years ago, Jay Leno had Bobbies Hodge on the show. If you are a reality TV junkie, you may remember Bobbie but you are forgiven if you don’t. She is a self-described conservative redneck who was on ABC’s TV show “Wife Swap.”  She went to live with a liberal, PETA loving, vegetarian family.  Her frustration with her new family finally spilled out in a tirade that the show’s creator loved. When she came on Jay’s show, she was embarrassed by the way she had been portrayed.  After they talked for a while, Jay said, “I understand someone made a bobblehead of you and put it on e-bay.”  “I know, I was so embarrassed, did you know I tried to buy it?”  “You did, how much did you bid?”  “I bid up to $100 but then it kept going up.”  You offered to pay $100 for this bobblehead?  It sold for more than that?”  “Yeah, believe it not it sold for $810!”  At that Jay said, “I know.” and reached behind his desk and handed Bobbie Hodge the bobble head doll of herself, the doll that had  been her source of emabarrassment. Immediately she broke into tears of gratitude, someone was on her side!

That is a picture of good news for the poor.  It is the news that God is on our side and will put all his resources into working for us.  Today, the good news is God is working with you to accomplish God’s best.

The second part of the mission for which the Spirit of God has come upon us is to bind up the brokenhearted.  All around us are people whose hearts have been broken.  Our neighbors have been betrayed, our children feel have been abused, our aging loved one forgotten, and the brokenness they experience is deep.  When our hearts are broken what we need is to know we have a home where we are accepted and loved unconditionally, that is what bring healing.

The film “Antwone Fisher” is the true story of a man who was born while his mother was incarcerated.  Upon her release, she abandoned him.  Antwone grew to be a good man.  He served in the military, he was a good student, he never became involved in drugs and was never in trouble with the law.  Finally, his broken heart leads him to find his mother, she is living alone in a small inner-city apartment.  When he is introduced to her, she leaves the room, he follows and asks why she never came to see him.  And then, well let’s watch. [Suggestion: Watch the Movie “Antwone Fisher” – for this sermon segment – Begin at 1:45:08 run to 1:50:06].

It is the word “welcome” that will mend the broken heart.  A genuine welcome that comes with open arms and unconditional love will heal the heart that has been torn.  And when we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will learn to welcome the outcast and the broken.  When we are connected to God, to others and to ourselves, both as a congregation and as individuals, we will be known as the people who heal the brokenhearted.

And when the Spirit of the Lord is upon us we will be people who work to set free those who are captive.  Some captives are in prison, paying for crimes.  However, far more people are held captive by their pasts and by their habits and by their values.  We are captive to the expectations of parents and partners.  We are held captive by the need for certainty in our thoughts about ourselves and God. Oswald Chambers said, “The Spirit of God is always the spirit of liberty; the spirit that is not of God is the spirit of bondage, the spirit of oppression and depression. The Spirit of God convicts vividly and tensely, but He is always the Spirit of liberty. God who made the birds never made birdcages; it is people who make birdcages, and after a while we become cramped and can do nothing but chirp and stand on one leg. When we get out into God’s great free life, we discover that that is the way God meant us to live “the glorious liberty of the children of God.””

Our privilege, as servants of God who are empowered by the Holy Spirit is to proclaim freedom to those who are captive.  And we are invited into the divine task of bringing light to those in the shadows. While shadows have no substance, they can hold people captive as surely as the walls of a prison.  Jesus came as the light of the world, a light that guides the feet and cleanses the soul and scatters the shadows. The message of the gospel is the message that this is the Day of God’s favor!  Yes, God is on the side of those in need, and when we are honest, we will acknowledge that we, too, are in dire need.

       When we accept the commission to walk in the steps of Jesus, we will find a new mission and we will find a new purpose.

To provide for those who are grieving.

In Isaiah’s day those in grief covered their heads with ashes, tore their clothes and refused to bathe.  Their lives were dominated publically as well as privately by their grief, everyone knew that they had lost someone they loved.

Isaiah’s task was to replace the ashes with a crown, to pour oil over the heads of those who had not washed and to give new clothes of celebration in place of the torn garments of sorrow.

How do we bring comfort to the sorrowing?  If you have ever grieved, you know what is appreciated the most.  Seldom do the words of another mean much.  Being told that eventually you will feel better is hollow, being told God wanted your beloved in heaven with him, is cruel, to hear the emotional and therefore less than sincere words, “Call me if there is anything I can do.” means little.  However, the person who comes and sits quietly while holding your hand will bring comfort.  The person who shares your tears, brings healing.  The person who quietly will quote scripture as you grieve will bring peace.  We bring comfort to the sorrowing when we give our time and emotional energy.

You see the time we spend bringing healing to those who are grieving yields great harvest.  It is in times of sorrow that we can find growth.  One of the most beautiful wildflowers in Alaska is the Fireweed. The delicate, purple pink blossoms have a number of uses. As a tea, Fireweed is good for upset stomachs, coughs, and asthma. Applied in other ways it treats bites, cuts, and eczema. The blossoms are also used to make flavorful jelly or honey.  Fireweed is so named because it is the first plant to bloom after a fire. When the smoke clears, and the earth cools, these flowers emerge from the blackened earth. Fireweed covers the landscape like a stunning quilt, trading beauty for ashes.

When Mary came to full recognition of the gift she had received, she burst into a prayer of praise!

It was a message that reflected the mission of the Prophet in Isaiah, but even went beyond that. Mary declared that God’s favor would reverse the fortunes of the downtrodden; That proud rulers would be overthrown and the humble would be lifted; That the rich would be swept away and the hungry would be filled. This is a picture of a new world order, and world where the poor hear good news, the blind see, the lame leap and the brokenhearted are comforted.

God invites us into a mission of connection and when we accept that mission, we are able to rejoice with the prophet and with Mary the Mother of Jesus and say,

“My soul glorifies the Lord

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful

of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

for the Mighty One has done great things for me—

holy is his name.

May this be your testimony as well.

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