Reflections on the first reading for the Third Sunday of Advent …
Today’s lectionary offers us a rich set of classic texts for Advent.
As the sermon will focus on John the Baptizer, this brief note will explore the first reading from Isaiah 61.
This one of several passages in the central part of the great Isaiah Scroll, that scholars refer to as the Servant Songs. No one is entirely sure how the figure of “the Servant” was understood at the time that the texts were being created, but we know it came to play a significant role in the spiritual imagination of the Jewish people around the time of Jesus.
Isaiah is one of the three OT books most often cited in the New Testament. (The other two are Deuteronomy and the Psalms.) A similar pattern is found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, where the ancient library of this controversial Jewish sect also has more copies of these three books than any other books from the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, a copy of the Isaiah Scroll was among the first Dead Sea Scrolls discoveries in 1947.
Who is the Servant of the LORD? Is it a person? Is it the nation as a whole? Is it Jerusalem? From a Christian perspective, we recognise that Jesus of Nazareth is the quintessential Servant of the LORD. But what about us? Are we not also called to be the ‘Servant of the LORD’?
In today’s passage the Servant is someone on whom the Spirit of God has been poured out. As a result of that anointing with the divine Spirit, the Servant will bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the broken hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4), he imagined Jesus claiming these same words to describe his own ministry.
Notice the down to earth consequences of the Servant’s ministry as the Anointed One, the Christ. The mission of the Servant is not to increase attendance at religious ceremonies or raise the level of offerings. Real people will find their own lives turned around. Adverse personal circumstances will be reversed. Destroyed and abandoned towns will be rebuilt. A new beginning for all the people of God, and not simply an increase in religious activity by the faithful.
May the Spirit of the LORD be poured out upon us all, and may we each claim our vocation as the Servant of the LORD.