Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Advent 3: Joy?

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11

So now with three candles lit on the Advent ring we have to admit that December the 25th really is nearly here, and we don’t have much longer to prepare ourselves for Christmas and all that it will bring.

Isaiah brings us the promise of the Good News of God’s coming.
This will be good news for the oppressed, the broken-hearted, the captive, the prisoner, and those who mourn.
Isaiah promises a day of good news for those who long for justice, blessing and joy.

Prophesying to people who were probably standing in the ruins of their city, Jerusalem, wondering how they would ever get life back to normal, Isaiah promises that God will come and all will be well. This city will once again be God’s city, this place will once again be God’s place.

It might not look like it to the people of God who have returned from exile, but even in the midst of the rubble, God promises he is at work and his messenger is told to declare good news.

How do you feel when you hear that promise? Do you feel that you can listen to these tidings of comfort and joy and hear the good news, or do you look around and see a world still filled with oppression, imprisonment and mourning? Has God fulfilled his promise to bind up the broken-hearted? And can he do it again for you and for me?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been left broken-hearted by the story of Charlotte Bevan and her four day old daughter, who lost their lives in the Avon Gorge, as Charlotte was overwhelmed by mental distress after the birth.
Twenty years ago when I had my daughter I survived mental illness following the birth – what is now called postnatal psychosis. I can remember thinking it was all meant to be different, the promise of a new baby was meant to bring a time of joy and blessing, it didn’t seem fair that I was struggling so much. But I was lucky, and Charlotte Bevan wasn’t.
Where is the promised world of justice and blessing and joy, which Isaiah declared?

It’s here. Broken, poured out, shared amongst the undeserving.

Advent prepares us for the coming of our God, acting in the world from a position of great weakness, not mighty strength. The creator of the universe, entering his creation as a feeble baby, to show us what justice, blessing and joy look like when wrapped in human flesh.
And is the birth of this baby Jesus only a story of joy? Surely there are echoes of something darker, even in the joy of the birth, echoes of the suffering that God inevitably takes on when he takes on human form.

Mary ponders…and will soon be warned by Simeon “a sword will enter your own heart”. God made flesh is not God come in power with a joy that will never fade, but is God made vulnerable, God made suffering, God made mortal. Jesus has to rely on Mary to bring him to birth, Joseph to rear him, strangers to provide a resting place, simple followers  - women and men – to tend for his needs in life and in death.

This baby does not only bring joy into lives, but in his real life of joy and pain Jesus becomes the focus for a whole new life of the kingdom of God. All those who follow him become part of the life of the kingdom too.

So this Christmas the URC is supporting Christian Aid, with a focus on mother and baby projects in Kenya. It’s not too late to give and have your gift matched pound for pound by the UK government .

But whenever and however you help the oppressed, the broken-hearted, the captive, the prisoners and those who mourn, you are part of the kingdom, following Jesus Christ in making the promise of Isaiah come true.

The good news of justice, blessing and joy was made real in the baby of Bethlehem, who grew to be Christ our saviour who lived and died for us.  God’s good news lives on in each of us who is part of the body of Christ.

In this bread, this wine, to each one of us and through each one of us, Christ come to heal our broken world and bring all the promise of the kingdom.
Hear again the word of Isaiah:
“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,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn”.

People of God, hear the good news – and rejoice.
Come eat and drink, remember all that Christ offers, and welcome him and God’s kingdom of justice, blessing and joy.  Amen.

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