Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Third Sunday of Advent, year B
texts: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28 (with references to Luke 4)
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me.
God 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.”
That’s it. That’s the job description. When Jesus began his ministry, Luke says he read these verses and proclaimed they were fulfilled in him. Since the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church at Pentecost, Luke declares the Church itself is now anointed into this calling.
Isaiah’s beautiful words become real when God’s people take them to heart as our calling, our life. We can’t hear this good news and live as if it wasn’t truly meant to happen.
Because the world is full of oppressed people. Full of brokenhearted people. Full of people who are bound up and captive. Full of prisoners, especially in our country. In the midst of the beauty of this prophetic word is real ugliness. Just as the proclamation of the Good News of God in Jesus comes into a world of real ugliness that we read and hear and see around us all the time.
The thing is, Isaiah believed God was doing something about it. The thing is, John the baptizer believed God was doing something about it. The thing is, in Christ Jesus our Lord we live and breathe declaring God is doing something about it. What that is, we need to understand.
Isaiah speaks of devastation because he speaks into devastation.
The exiles of Judah joyfully returned to their homeland to find it a wasteland: Jerusalem destroyed, homes and villages burned, the Temple a ruin, the holy things taken away. They came home to find their home a wreck.
To them, Isaiah declares: God brings you comfort in your mourning, gladness instead of grief. God is restoring the covenant with Israel, and will help you rebuild your ruins, repair your devastations. Joy will come, like to a bride and groom dressing for their wedding day.
This happened. Israel was rebuilt, the people were able to live and flourish.
Jesus appropriates this promise onto his own ministry. The healing of devastation, pain, suffering, the promise of the LORD’s favor, that, Jesus says, is what he is about.
The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me, he said, because God has anointed me to this.
John’s Gospel introduces Jesus as the Light who comes into the darkness of this world revealing the heart of God.
Like the promise to the exiles, standing in the bricks and dust and garbage of a ruined homeland, the coming of the Son of God is light in utter darkness.
This is Good News, we say. Because the world is full of oppressed people. Full of brokenhearted people. Full of people who are bound up and captive. Full of prisoners, especially in our country. We live in darkness and fear, much of which we have created. We long for the Light of God to shine hope.
John the baptizer today tells us the Light is here, the one sent from God has come into this world. Everything is going to change.
The Spirit of the LORD God is upon Christ Jesus, because God has anointed him, and we rejoice.
But the Evangelist points out an important question of the Baptizer: if Christ is the light, who is John?
Is he the Messiah? No. The prophet who was promised to come, one like Moses? No. Elijah himself? No. Then who? I’m the one preparing the way for this coming of God, he says.
John the baptizer wasn’t the light of God himself. He was the witness to the light. Like the moon to the sun, John reflected the Light of Christ into the world so others could see it.
We’re different from John, though. We are in fact anointed just like our Lord Christ. We are anointed to carry Christ’s mission into the world. Our baptism proclaims this, our calling from our Lord declares this, our new life in his death and resurrection reveals this. Like John, we are not “the” Messiah, “the” prophet, but we are messiahs (anointed ones), prophets of God with small letters, reflecting God’s light. Isaiah’s call is our work now, if we take our Lord seriously.
The Spirit of the LORD God is upon us, because God has anointed us. Really.
We begin our calling as anointed ones by our laughter into the darkness.
Knowing the Lord has come to make all things new, our mouths are filled with laughter and shouts of joy, as we sang. This is God’s will for us, Paul says: that our life be one of rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances.
This is our reflected light: we can hold the joy of God’s healing and grace in a world of pain and grief, holding people, helping people, walking with people, always filled with inner joy because we know God is working in us and in many for life.
This is our reflected light: we can pray without ceasing, living our lives constantly aware of the presence of God in our midst so our very thoughts are prayer, our actions and grace offerings of praise, and we both see God’s presence in this world where others cannot, and live as signs of God’s presence ourselves.
This is our reflected light: we give thanks in all circumstances, thanks that God has sent us to make a difference, thanks that God has not abandoned this world to our destruction but come into it to bring healing, thanks that there is still time for us to do something, thanks that we do not do this alone but with the power and strength of the crucified and risen God.
The Spirit of the LORD God is upon us, because God has anointed us. This is God’s will for us.
This life of joy, prayer, and thanks becomes the grounding for our entering Isaiah’s vision fully.
Jesus took seriously that he would bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to those captive and freedom to those in prison. He was anointed for that. He did this.
What would happen if we also took our baptismal anointing seriously and did just those things?
What good news could we bring to the oppressed? Could we be a part of the healing of this nation, this world, finding our own places in the task to make this a society of justice for all, of equality and fairness? Could we begin to heal the ancient and open wounds that our own sin has created, that subjugate people even in this country based on their skin color, or their economic status, or their education? How might we, anointed ones of God, feel such wounds ourselves, like our Lord, and begin to repair such ruins?
What binding of the brokenhearted could we do? Could we find roles for each of us to participate in the healing of a world of pain, where so many have caused or received so much pain that cycles of violence and killing and hatred lead to endless war, endless crime, endless abuse? Could we be grace to the brokenhearted that stops the revenge and retaliation broken hearts so want? Could we work to make this a culture of peace and wholeness instead of selfishness and violence? How might we, anointed ones of God, take this pain on ourselves, like our Lord, and begin to build up such foundations from the ashes?
What freedom can we proclaim to those who are captive to systems beyond their control, what liberty can we proclaim to those imprisoned and thrown away? Our society raises whole groups of people who never see the possibility of a way out of their situation, trapped in a system that crushes, who despair to find hope and real life. Our society imprisons more people by far than any other so-called civilized society on earth. Could we begin to work on these? Support leaders who seek to dismantle unjust systems, who seek to find ways to heal society rather than build bigger walls and stronger prisons? Could we be a part of God’s healing here? How might we, anointed ones of God, enter such captivity ourselves, like our Lord, and begin to raise up hope out of these devastations?
The Spirit of the LORD God is upon us, because God has anointed us. This is what God has called us to do.
“Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God,” we pray, “that anointed by your Spirit we may testify to your light.” 
The Spirit of the LORD God is upon us, because God has anointed us. God has sent us to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners. That’s it. That’s the job description. We most certainly need God to stir up our wills to do this, to reflect the Light of God that has come into the world.
But the Spirit of the LORD God is upon us, that is our hope. We do not do this alone. We do this with each other and all others so anointed. We do this with the Spirit of the risen Christ who has anointed us to this. So we are not afraid. For the light has come, and we are sent to shine that light into this world so all can see.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
 From Prayer of the Day for 3 Advent B