Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Christians associate these words more readily with Jesus (Luke 4) than with Isaiah. Any sermon preached from Isaiah will surely proclaim Jesus as the anointed one, the Christ. But we should not rush too soon to Luke 4. We should first savor the revolutionary radical, wild announcement of the prophet, even though we will be tempted to tame it with reason and common sense.
Many, if not most, of the exiles have returned home from Babylon to Jerusalem. But home is not what it was. The city is broken, the temple is laid waste, the nation is brokenhearted and afflicted. The prophet announces that everything is about to be reversed. The afflicted will hear good news, the captives will be set free, those who mourn will be comforted: "What you see is about to be undone; the new order has arrived."
It is right for Jesus to use these words to inaugurate his ministry in the synagogue. He is the one anointed with the Spirit to usher in the new order of God's rule. To know Jesus as the Christ is to trade the ashes of mourning for the garland of joy. It is like singing a doxology at a grave while tears of mourning mix with tears of joy.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Rejoice! That is the word for the third Sunday of Advent.
Jesus' death for us has destined us to live with him (v. 10). Living between what has been done for us and what is yet to come creates a new community and gives us new responsibility.
The community of responsibility described in verses 11-24 does not fit well into our North American society. Individual likes and dislikes determine and justify behavior more than communal responsibility. Freedom from relationships for "doing your own thing" is our way of life. Individualism has sown the seeds of loneliness and despair.
Those who are brought together by the gospel story (he died for us, v. 10) and who envision a common destiny (we'll live with him, v. 10) are called to encourage and build one another up. The community rejoices, gives thanks, is open to the Spirit, tests what it hears, and disciplines itself to do what is good.
John 1:6-8; 19-28
Those who preached from Mark 1:1-8 on the second Sunday of Advent may be inclined to ignore this lection because it again takes up the ministry of John the Baptist. However, the messages of the two readings are very different.
John the Baptist is on trial. The Pharisees sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem for this purpose. They want to know his identity and his credentials. John is the defendant before the religious court.
In typical Johannine fashion, the author portrays John the Baptist and the prosecutors as not understanding each other. They keep missing each other. John says who he is not. They press hirn. They treat him like a defendant in their court, but John turns out to be a wtness in God's court. He points to Jesus. John can be known only in relation to the One who is coming. The world—including the religious leaders—must make up its mind about who Jesus is. In that court, John is a witness.
The church, like John, is on trial in the world's court. That is all right. What matters is that the church is a witness in God's court, where the world must decide who Jesus is.
About the cover...
According to the prophet, everything is about to be reversed. The new order has arrived. The afflicted will hear good news, the captives will be set free, and those who mourn will be comforted. God comes to us from above, bringing light and healing, mending the broken cloth of our lives to dispel our loneliness and despair.
The bulletins and banner were designed by Chris Stoffel Overvoorde as published in Reformed Worship 29 (Fall, 1993).