Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
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; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to 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. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
8 For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10 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, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 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.
Sermon The Year of the Lord’s Favor?
Good morning. This has been a grim week. On Wednesday, set a new record for coronavirus deaths in a single day, 3,054. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “issued a stark warning about the worsening death toll from the coronavirus on Thursday, saying that in a coming brutal stretch of time the country is likely to see more deaths from the virus each day than from the Sept. 11 attacks or Pearl Harbor.”
On the same day, a panel of advisors to the Food and Drug Administration gave its approval for the use of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer. It’s possible that some nursing home residents and healthcare workers could begin to receive the vaccine as early as next week.
We’ve got an avalanche of bad news, followed by some serious good news.
Can anyone say, whiplash?
That had to be how the people of Judah, the exiles from Jerusalem, must have felt when they heard these words from the prophet Isaiah. They must have felt something like whiplash. Let’s have a quick review.
The Book of Isaiah was most likely the work of three different authors, writing over a span of about two hundred years. The second part of Isaiah was written during a time called the Babylonian captivity or exile. During that time, the Babylonians invaded the kingdom of Judah, sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple that King Solomon built, and then they took most of the religious and political leaders captive—they took them off to Babylon.
The exiles were held in Babylon for some 60-80 years; whole generations were born and died there. That was the scene for last Sunday’s reading, when God said to the exiles, through the prophet Isaiah, “Comfort, O comfort my people.” That was when God told them not to give up, not to lose hope.
Our reading today comes from the third part of the Book of Isaiah, after many of the exiles had returned from captivity. Things were no picnic when they got back to their homeland. The people who remained in Judah didn’t welcome the exiles home. They really weren’t impressed. The people who remained in Judah moved on without the exiles. Remember, whole generations of Jews who remained in Judah also were born and died. They wouldn’t really have known who the exiles were or why it was so important that they returned.
When the exiles returned, they found that Jerusalem had been abandoned. Solomon’s temple had been destroyed some sixty years earlier, yet no one had rebuilt it. The temple had been the center of Jewish religious life. So, to return and find everything in ruins, that must have felt like a punch in the gut to the exiles. Imagine their emotional journey:
· They were prisoners in Babylon, struggling to hang on to hope.
· God told them they were going to be released.