Thursday, December 24, 2009

Prepare ye the way

Misty Path
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Roughly eight centuries before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah wrote...

The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.
God sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken,
Announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners.
God sent me to announce the year of God's grace...

Israel was a companion of hard times and acquainted with grief, being a conquered people in a foreign land. Isaiah assured them that the oppression and injustice which they faced daily were not part of God's will.

Hundreds of years later, young Mary - still living in an occupied state and familiar with oppression and hard times - echoed Isaiah's protest, rejoicing in the news that she would bear a son, saying...

What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
God's mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
God bared an arm and showed God's strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
God knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
God embraced the chosen child, Israel;
God remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.

Shortly afterwards, John the Baptist was born and his father also echoed Isaiah, reminding everyone that God was with the poor and oppressed...

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
God came and set his people free.
God set the power of salvation in the center of our lives,
and in the very house of David God's servant,
Just as God promised long ago
through the preaching of God's holy prophets:
Deliverance from our enemies
and every hateful hand;
Mercy to our ancestors,
as God remembers to do what God promised to do

And John grew up, going on to be a wild-eyed preacher in the desert, calling Israel to repentence, preparing the way for the promised one. Luke describes it this way...

The crowd asked him, "Then what are we supposed to do?"

"If you have two coats, give one away," he said. "Do the same with your food."

Tax men also came to be baptized and said, "Teacher, what should we do?"

He told them, "No more extortion—collect only what is required by law."

Soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?"

He told them, "No shakedowns, no blackmail—and be content with your rations."

The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, "Could this John be the Messiah?"

But John intervened: "I'm baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I'm a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He's going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He'll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he'll put out with the trash to be burned."

There was a lot more of this—words that gave strength to the people, words that put heart in them. The Message! But Herod, the ruler, stung by John's rebuke in the matter of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, capped his long string of evil deeds with this outrage: He put John in jail.

Then, finally, Jesus began his preaching, once again echoing Isaiah (literally quoting him, this time), saying...

God's Spirit is on me;
God's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to
the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, "This is God's year to act!"

As we reflect upon this season, upon all that led up to Jesus' birth and the way that God has come to live amongst us, let us give thanks that God IS with us in very real and tangible ways and let us live our lives by God's grace in the steps of the one who came preaching good news to the poor and the day of liberation and salvation.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone.

And on earth, peace, good will to us all.

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