Third Sunday in Advent

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. (Isa 61:1-4)

Advent — I’ve said every week now in this series — is about waiting. But if I’m being honest, most of what I wait for at this time of year has almost nothing to do with the coming of Christ. Once the calendar flips to December, I look forward to the tastes, sights, and sounds that only come around once a year: Chex mix and peppermint mochas, lit-up houses and Elf, the King’s College Choir and Sufjan Stevens singing favorite carols.

It’s anticipation made anodyne.

But what Scripture attests and promises these weeks is not reassurance but reversal: liberty for captives, release for prisoners, comfort for mourners. The powerful and lowly will change places, Mary sings; hunger will become fullness; prosperity, emptiness.

Guérin, "Angel of Truth Giving Freedom and Liberty to the Slave"
Jules Vallée Guérin, “Angel of Truth Giving Freedom and Liberty to the Slave” (1922), Lincoln Memorial – Creative Commons (Vanderbilt Digital Library)

Advent’s shifts are seismic: valleys lifted up, mountains made low. It’s as quiet and calm as a Manhattan construction site, as God’s glory is displayed in the repair and rebuilding of ruins.

So while last week we celebrated the tenderness of our God, let us now anticipate the un-gentle comforts of a God who has proclaimed a day of both favor and vengeance: a God of grace, and a God of justice.