If you watch or read the news, you wonder if there is any joy left in this world. Occasionally, a heart-warming story is inserted amidst the grim, bleak, despairing circumstances that seems to be gripping humanity. If Advent is the season of hope and the third Sunday in Advent focuses on joy, it’s obvious the masses have not received that memo.
When Jesus, the one whose birth we await during this season, started his ministry, he stood in the synagogue and read this hope-filled passage from Isaiah:
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; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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 61:1-4; 8-11).
As with everything Jesus did, reading this passage was by design. His ministry of healing and teaching and grace became the definitive sign of God coming into the world in a new and hopeful way in the person of Jesus. The ministry of Jesus is to be continually carried out by the people of God in every act of justice and rebuilding, healing and hope.
As I reflect on the poverty and deterioration of our cities, here and abroad, I can sense what it must have been like for the Israelites returning from captivity in Babylon as they entered their once-glorious Jerusalem now destroyed and in ruins. What does it say about societies where permanent underclasses have no hope of rising up and out of their circumstances even with education and hard work?
How does God still speak to us today about our treatment of those of us who are poor, those of us who are most vulnerable and without voice? Who is speaking for the poor and marginalized as we dream of rebuilding our cities? Who is speaking for the poor in nations pressed down with debt? How are we moved, in this season of charity, to be a blessing and bring joy?
As we await the coming of Jesus, the same Jesus who identified his own call with these words from Isaiah, what is the hope we long for the world? What words and small deeds of joy can we share. Joy shared is a soothing balm