Isaiah61:1-11, Luke 4:14-21; God’s Renewal (12-7-14)
By the Rev. Bob Gochenour
Once upon a time there was a little girl who didn’t like to get Christmas presents.
Her name was Marcie.
Every year when it came time to open the presents from under the tree, Marcie would go to her room and stay there until all the presents were unwrapped and put away.
One year for Christmas, Santa Claus brought Marcie a baby doll that said, “I love you” when you squeezed it.
It was a wonderful gift, but of course, Marcie didn’t want it.
She wouldn’t even pick it up.
She just went to her room and left the poor baby doll lying all alone under the tree.
Everyone in Marcie’s family was getting pretty tired of her attitude towards Christmas presents.
So finally, on Christmas Day after dinner, her grandmother took her aside for a heart to heart talk.
She said, “Marcie, come here and sit on my lap.”
Marcie’s grandmother had a comfortable lap—Marcie always loved sitting with her grandmother.
Her grandmother said: “Now Marcie, tell me why you don’t like to get Christmas presents.”
Marcie didn’t say anything at first. She just snuggled in close to her grandmother until she was warm and cozy.
Then she said: “It’s because I’m not good enough.”
Marcie’s grandmother was surprised.
“Whatever made you think a thing like that?” she asked.
Marcie said: “Well, people are always telling me to be good so that Santa Claus will come. And you know Grandma, as hard as I try, I can’t always be good. So I do not deserve presents.”
Marcie’s grandmother smiled and gave her a big hug.
And then she told her something that Marcie would never forget.
“Marcie, people don’t give you Christmas presents because you’ve been good. They give you presents because they love you. We all love you, Marcie, and we would give you presents no matter how good or bad you might have been.”
Marcie smiled and gave her grandmother a big kiss.
Then she climbed down from her grandmother’s comfortable lap, went straight to the Christmas tree, picked up her new baby doll and gave it a big squeeze.
And do you know what that baby doll said?
“I Love you.”
How many of us are like this little girl?
We get bound up by our struggles even in the midst of the Christmas excitement and celebration.
The festive atmosphere seems only to emphasize our pain and suffering.
Too often, life continues in spite of the Christmas holiday.
Sometimes, life is not kind.
We have sorrow and heartbreak while the rest of the world is decking the halls with boughs of holly.
We have loneliness and depression while the rest of the world is enjoying family and fun.
There is sickness and despair when it should be a time of celebration.
Sometimes, the bad memories ruin our Christmas season.
I had a member in a former church who lost their 17 year old daughter around Christmas time.
For the ten years that followed her death, that family did not celebrate Christmas.
I can understand their grief.
The anniversary of her death was just too painful to feel like celebrating.
I also know that many people carry these burdens.
Our scripture lessons bring us Good News in the midst of our grief.
Isaiah describes the people of Israel as they are exiled in Babylon; they were oppressed, brokenhearted, captives, prisoners, mourners, and people with faint spirits.
Life became painful for them: they had lost their homes and lived in exile in a foreign land for 70 years.
Some of them came to think like little Marcie in our story.
They felt that they were not good enough to have God’s favor.
They felt guilty and concluded they deserved their fate.
The felt like God didn’t love them anymore.
Perhaps, we feel just like them.
Isaiah brings GOOD NEWS of deliverance.
In the midst of Israel’s despair and hopelessness, Isaiah proclaims the everlasting love of God.
God brings renewal to his people through a new King:
“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; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)
This is the Good News:
God gives you: liberty, release, favor, comfort, gladness, praise.
God brings renewal to his people through His gifts of love.
The depressed and downtrodden are turned around.
Tragedy is reversed—we are given a new reason to celebrate.
Mourning is turned to joy—we discover God’s faithfulness.
The people of Israel described their reversal of fortune:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” (Isaiah 61:10)
The people compare their joy to the glory of a wedding celebration:
“for he has clothed me…as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10)
The people compare their joy to the coming of the first growth in Springtime:
“For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” (Isaiah 61:11)
The people of Israel experienced God’s steadfast love in the midst of their painful world.
God was faithful to them.
God gave them presents: not based on whether they were good or bad, but based upon God’s love.
God’s love for us is so great that he demonstrates it over and over.
God’s renewal is repeated over and over again.
God gave His best gift of love to us when His Son Jesus was born.
Jesus is the New King that will bring renewal to all of God’s people.
When Jesus was 30 years old, he entered his home town of Nazareth and went to worship at his local synagogue.
The elders invited him to preach from Isaiah 61.
Jesus claimed these words as his mission:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus turned to the congregation and said:
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (vs.21)
This is the glory of Christmas: Jesus brings us God’s renewal.
God is like a loving grandmother with a big comfortable lap.
God give us the Good News: we don’t have to remain in our bondage, our grief, and our guilt.
God wants us to know His great love as revealed through His Son Jesus Christ.
God’s renewal is available for you today!
God will set you free from all your burdens and allow you to experience the glory of Christmas.
Sandy Thompson wrote this poem: “One Starry Night.”
A cold and lonely world.
Men struggling to touch a far-off God.
One starry midnight in Bethlehem,
God bent down and gathered up the world
In a warm, loving embrace—Christmas.