Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent 2017

By Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11

Find Sunday’s reading here:

Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.
Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.

Gaudete Sunday is the period in Advent in which we rejoice! We celebrate Christian joy in giving thanks and praise to all that God does for us. The reading from Isaiah this Sunday reminds us of our baptism. In our baptism we share in Christ’s redemptive action as priest, prophet, and king. The prophet proclaims, “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners” (Is 61:1). In this opening verse we hear the prophetic author being described as one who possesses God’s spirit, who has been anointed as God’s own, and who has been sent by God to proclaim God’s word. We too, by virtue of our baptism, share in this call to assist in God’s saving work.

As a part of my formation I had the opportunity to minister as a hospital chaplain. One morning I had the opportunity to serve in the pediatric unit, offering pre-surgery prayer to patients. A conversation I had with one of the patients in the pre-surgery unit was a young girl between eight and eleven years of age. She said that she was “really nervous” about her upcoming surgery; however, after we prayed together the first words out of her mouth after saying “Amen” were, “I feel a whole lot better.” What a powerful experience! This little girl has faith. She has been gifted with the grace of trust—trust in our God who cares for the oppressed. To trust in our God’s hesed, that loyal, selfless love which binds God’s self to us. Surely, I was not the cause of this great faith, but like the prophet Isaiah—through my baptism—I was filled with the Spirit, anointed as God’s own, and was sent to proclaim God’s good news (Is 61:1). This pre-surgery prayer was an experience of freedom, of God loosening the bonds of this young girl so that she could be freed from all anxiety, despair, and doubt, and elevated to a state of newness, hope, and trust in God.

Recalling the promises that we made, or were made for us in our baptism, let us invite God to strengthen our faith, to share in Christ’s ministry as priest, prophet, and king—to serve God in holiness, to preach justice, and to lead people to God.

—Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.

This freedom is not ours to give, but is given by God. Isaiah states in his mission that he is to, “Announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God” (Is 61:2). But what does this mean?! In the Jewish tradition the “Year of Jubilee” occurred every fiftieth year and during this year emancipation and economic restructuring occurred. Slaves were freed from their bondage and debtors from their debt. The celebration of the “Year of Jubilee” served as a symbol of a new era, a new beginning for those who have been disadvantaged.[1] We should keep in mind, however, that while this release of debt and slavery was meant to be carried out by people, it was ultimately God who gave the people everything, including freedom from the slavery of their enemies (i.e. Egypt in the Book of Exodus).

HandsIsaiah proclaims, “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice” (Is 61:10). Similar to the Israelites, we praise our God who frees us from the bondages of sin and slavery. If we learn to acclaim “Amen” and trust in God’s hesed, we too begin rejoicing for the grace God has given us. To be free of all debt and slavery truly brings in a new era, and in the midst of the darkness, a new light shines forth like a “bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with jewels” (Is 61:10). When we accept this grace, God places a robe of salvation and justice on us, to be God’s messengers to others, sharing and expressing God’s hesed to our world. Like a wedding, new life is meant to shine forth.

“As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations” (Is 61:11). Isaiah offers us an image of a hopeful future. He offers us God’s intentions, a new world in which all will live in justice and praise. But are we willing to permit the seed to be planted, to allow new life to sprout and grow? Often, it is our own wills that get in the way of preventing new life. Are we willing to let go of our own wills to serve God’s will?

In the hospital environment I generally found that it was the children who did the best of “letting go” of those things which prevented them from trusting and allowing God into their hearts. On the other hand, overall, the most challenging individuals in the hospital were the grown men, who found it difficult to trust in God and God’s hesed—God’s loyal love. Perhaps the grown men found the hospital environment difficult because they have always been in control of their lives. Now, being ill and stuck in a hospital, they recognized that they no longer had control; all they could do was trust others to help.

Often we do not like to admit that we are not in control. We try to control our destiny and our lives, but when faced with such a thing as our own mortality, we begin to recognize that we have no control over our own lives. It is children. Children are the ones who know how to trust. They trust their parents and their guardians. They rely so much on the care of others that it is the children who truly understand what it means to trust in God’s hesed—to know that God is always with them, always loving them.

If we wish for faith, if we wish for trust in God’s hesed, let us be open to the possibility of being more like children; to be open to a world flipped upside down. As we rejoice this day, Gaudete Sunday, let us recall the freedom God has granted us from our sins, so that we may have newness of life. Recalling the promises that we made, or were made for us in our baptism, let us invite God to strengthen our faith, to share in Christ’s ministry as priest, prophet, and king—to serve God in holiness, to preach justice, and to lead people to God.

[1] John D.W. Watts, Isaiah 34-66, Vol 25, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Inc., 1984), 303.

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