Most of the book of Isaiah is bad news for the people of Judah, the pitiful remains of the once-great nation of Israel. But there are a few pin-points of joyful relief, and today’s passage (Isaiah 61:1-11) is one of those. It’s an appropriate reading for the third Sunday in Advent, ‘Gaudete Sunday’ because traditionally the communion ceremony began with the Latin words, “Gaudete in Domino semper” (“Rejoice in the Lord always”).
Today we light the pink candle, representing joy, and traditionally it’s a day of relief from the mourning and repentance of the Advent season, the time when we prepare for Christmas, when we celebrate the first advent (‘arrival’) of the Lord Jesus; and more importantly, for his Second Coming, when he will return to judge the world with perfect righteousness and justice.
In 21st century Australia, we don’t tend to think of Advent as a time of mourning; this is the party season, when we celebrate the end of the year and have endless pre-Christmas break-up gatherings. Which approach best reflects the Bible’s teaching?
Both, really. Knowing the context Isaiah was speaking to will help us understand his message. The news that our Lord Jesus will certainly return to clean up the mess of this world is frightening, if we are part of the problem. But Isaiah said God’s message was good news for the poor, the broken-hearted, the prisoners and mourners, the victims of injustice.
But Isaiah was writing to people who knew their nation had rejected God. Not everyone who is broken-hearted now is going to rejoice when Jesus returns, but the ones who love him will. Not everyone who experiences injustice will rejoice when he cleans up the mess, but those who call to him for help will. Not every prisoner will be relieved to hear that Jesus is coming, but the people who are in prison for their faith in him, or else have admitted that they did wrong, and need his forgiveness.
So Advent is a good time to re-assess – does God have his rightful place in your life? If he does, rejoice! Because Jesus will come again. But if not, it’s time to repent, and ask him for forgiveness and a fresh start.
- Katie Peken