If you’re following the Advent calendar, this week asked us to sing Christmas carols on one of the days. I asked my Facebook friends what their favorite Christmas carol was so I could include that in my singing. Only a few people answered, but everyone agreed on O Holy Night and Mary, Did You Know. There’s something these songs have in common. They share something in common with the Advent hymns that we know, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
The theme these 4 songs have in common is that the lyric ask us to sing about what Christ did and does. Most of our Christmas songs are about angels and shepherds, joy, love and peace, and Christ’s royalty and reign. Our favorite hymns, O Holy Night and Mary, Did You Know, and our Advent hymns Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel share lyrical themes about Christ’s ministry.
Listen to these words. I won’t sing them.
Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free. From our fears and sins release us.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here.
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining; it is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you. Mary, did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
These 4 songs, our favorite Advent and Christmas songs aren’t about angels and shepherds. These songs are about deliverance. The new born baby, the coming Messiah will set free the captives, give sight, bring good news, free, save.
These are all things Jesus told us He had come to do. In Luke 4, Jesus was teaching in a synagogue as was His custom, because He knew the value of gathering to hear God’s Word proclaimed in the fellowship of believers. He stood up to read the Scripture that day. The scroll that was handed to Him to read was from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the words:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me
To proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me
To proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
To set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
He read the words of Isaiah. Then, He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The tradition was for the teacher to sit in a particular chair in front of the assembly and teach while seated. When He sat down, everyone stayed their eyes on Jesus, ready to hear what He had to say about that Scripture. He said, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Those words Jesus read were from the prophet Isaiah chapter 61. Isaiah gives the people a sign of the coming Messiah. Then, Jesus took up that mantle and said He was the Anointed One. Jesus claims that He had been sent by God to fulfill the work Isaiah said that the Messiah would do. Jesus would proclaim, set free, and give sight.
The prophet Isaiah speaking in chapter 61 is speaking to the people of Israel who have returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city after centuries in Exile. He is speaking to people who are depressed because their hopes aren’t being realized. They returned with visions of the glory of the past age of the great Temple and the Lord’s Presence there. But, the Temple is taking longer than expected to be rebuilt and they don’t have the resources they had when they originally built it.
To these weary people, Isaiah gives them a vision of Messianic hope. Isaiah says that when God acts lives are changed, reality is altered. Their rebuilding of the Temple isn’t about nostalgia of how things used to be. Rebuilding is the action of hope in the Lord’s Presence. The people will be unbound and their wounds bound up. They will be clothed in salvation and have jars of oil representing gladness.
In this Messianic age, the day of the Lord, the year of jubilee, whatever time the prophets were talking about, there would be established “a new covenant setting forth a new way of being with God that builds on God’s past faithfulness.” (Working Preacher Podcast). Isaiah says this new covenant will be the fulfillment of the everlasting covenant God has been slowly establishing throughout history with His people. This covenant starts with the sign of the rainbow for Noah, includes circumcision, the offerings before God, and a family for Jacob. The prophets promise this everlasting covenant will be fulfilled by the Messiah and will include all people.
The prophet refers to three demographics that the Messiah will serve: the poor, the brokenhearted and the captives. They will receive good news; their wounds will be bound up and they will be set free. These 3 groups are referred to again and again throughout Scriptures, including the Psalms and the prophets, and especially the Gospel of Luke as the people whom God cares for and sends help to. The Messiah will proclaim, heal and liberate. This is all the work Jesus did on His earthly life and the work He continues to do as the Risen Savior. It is through Christ that God fulfilled the everlasting covenant and serves these broken, hurting, enslaved people.
As Disciples of Jesus Christ, it is our work to continue His ministry of proclamation, healing and liberation. This requires us to be generous with our time, our gifts and our resources.
I recently read the story of a couple in California, Marty Burbank and his wife. Marty is a millionaire and loves boating. “He met his wife on a boat, he proposed to her on a boat and married her on a boat.” Marty was thinking about buying a new boat but had a crazy idea. He went to an elementary school in Anaheim, California and talked to a kindergarten teacher. Tessa Ashton, the teacher, wept when he shared his idea.
Marty decided that instead of buying a boat he would pay for the college tuition of an entire kindergarten class. One of the kindergarten students said, “college is a big place and there is a fountain. It has a big cafeteria that has coffee and bread.” She is going to school to become a doctor.
Marty said he got the inspiration for his generous gift from a sermon he heard at his church around Christmas time. It was a sermon about giving. Christmas time is a great time to talk about giving. We are most generous at Christmas time because we want everyone to enjoy the holiday with a lavish meal and lots of toys and presents. The Christmas season is a season of generosity. (http://www.ocregister.com/articles/college-702701-burbank-school.html)
It is important we hear the Gospel proclaimed during Advent. This season of generosity is not about Jesus being a king or a prince or being visited by angels or shepherds or wise men. The Gospel at Christmas is the Gospel we sing about in our favorite songs. It is the good news that Jesus has come to proclaim good news, bind up the brokenhearted, set free the captives, and give sight. It is this work we are called to, not just during Christmas; it is the work of the church throughout the year that can only be fulfilled through our generosity as we share our time, gifts and resources with the poor, the sick and the oppressed.