“The Year of the Lord’s Favor” (Isaiah 61:1-4, 10-11)

Third Sunday in Advent
December 13, 2020

“The Year of the Lord’s Favor” (Isaiah 61:1-4, 10-11)

We’re coming to the end of this year, and what a year it has been! 2020–a year that will live in infamy! Our country has had a very tough year: Covid-19, economic shutdowns and lockdowns, people losing their jobs, people losing their businesses, people losing their lives. We had rioting in the streets, looting and burning, and governors and mayors letting it happen. We had a tense election season, with the results very much in dispute. What a year it has been! Those “year in review” retrospectives you’ll see at the end of the month–they will not be a happy trip down memory lane.

And for churches, too, this year has not been a happy experience. Back in March, we chose to shut down services for some weeks out of concern for public safety. Then when it was safe to come back together, we took some reasonable precautions. But we had some members who thought we were not doing enough, and other members who thought we were doing too much, and still other members, more at high risk, decided to just stay home to be safe. All this, in turn, has affected our offerings, which puts further strain on our already-tight budget. We have all been trying to do the best we can for all concerned, but it has not been easy. And people of good will have had different views on how to handle things.

And for you personally, having to live through all of this–the stress and strain of this year no doubt has affected you. Maybe you know someone who has been sick or even died. Maybe you know someone who lost their job or their business. Maybe physical sickness or mental strain or financial setbacks have hit close to home, in your home, touching you or one of your loved ones.

So when you listen to people talk about this year of 2020, whether on social media or at a social distance of six feet and through a mask, the talk has largely been negative. And to some degree, understandably so. Nobody likes the “new normal” of isolation and restrictions and diminished expectations.

But in spite of all this, I’m here to tell you today that there is something good–something very good–about this year of 2020. In fact, I want to tell you that this is–hard to believe–this is “The Year of the Lord’s Favor.”

“‘The Year of the Lord’s Favor’?? Are you kidding me, Pastor? If this is the Lord’s favor, I’d hate to see what his displeasure would be like!” Well, in a way, I have to agree with you. You would hate to see what the Lord’s displeasure would be like! Fortunately, you’re not experiencing that, and I hope you never will. And I’m here today, bringing you God’s Word, precisely so you won’t.

“The year of the Lord’s favor”: That phrase comes to us today from the Old Testament reading, from Isaiah 61. There our text begins: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor. . . .”

This was the word of the Lord that came to the prophet Isaiah about 700 years before Christ. But, make no mistake, this is a prophecy about Christ himself. This is a passage about Jesus. Jesus said as much at the start of his ministry. He was reading this passage in the synagogue at Nazareth, and when he finished, he rolled up the scroll and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “This prophecy is about me.”

And indeed it is! Think of it. The prophecy says, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.” That happened when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. Jesus was being anointed for his ministry as the Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One.

And Jesus then went about doing those things prophesied of the Messiah in our text from Isaiah. “The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” That’s what Jesus did. He did not hang around with the rich and famous. He went to people who were down and out, and he ministered to them. He preached good news to them: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

How do you come before God? As though you’re rich and have everything you need? Or do you realize your spiritual poverty and your reliance on God to supply your every need? Jesus reveals to us the heavenly Father who cares for his children and clothes them and feeds them.

“The Lord has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.” And that’s what Jesus did. Think of Jairus, whose daughter Jesus raised from the dead. Or the widow of Nain, whose son he raised. Or Martha and Mary, whose brother Lazarus he raised. All those folks were brokenhearted at the loss of a close family member. But Jesus bound up their broken hearts.

If you are brokenhearted, at the loss of loved ones, at great disappointments in life (and we all have them), at loneliness and emptiness–if that’s you, Jesus is here for you today, to bind up your wounds with the healing balm of the gospel. Jesus has overcome the sting of death with his resurrection, and he shares that resurrection victory with all who trust in him.

“The Lord has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” Jesus did that also. Those who were under the control of demons–Jesus set them free. Christ is the world’s Redeemer, the one who sets us free from our bondage to sin, Satan, and death. You are no longer a slave to those things. The word of Christ is the truth that sets you free. And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

“The Lord has sent me to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus did that back then, and he’s still doing that today. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” The favor of the Lord came upon Mary, when she was told that she would bear the Christ child. And the favor of the Lord rests upon you, his undeserved grace and favor, on you who are God’s baptized children.

Jesus came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. He came to comfort you who mourn. You mourn the people in your life who are no longer with you. You mourn the damage that sin has inflicted on your life and on the world around us. You mourn your own sinfulness. This life is a vale of tears. But Jesus comes and gives you “a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.”

Jesus has clothed you with the garments of salvation; he has covered you with the robe of his perfect righteousness. Jesus took all your sin-stained garments and cleansed them white in his holy precious blood. Now you have the righteousness you need to stand before God on Judgment Day and be welcomed into his eternal kingdom.

What does this do? It gives you hope. No matter how crazy and chaotic this world has become, you have a hope to hold on to. And nothing can disturb this hope you have. Not Covid, not lockdowns, not the dark winter that may be coming upon us. Your hope is as strong and secure as our risen Lord Jesus himself.

What else does this give you? It gives you joy. As our text says: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God.” Did you notice that today we lit the rose-colored candle? That candle symbolizes joy. The Third Sunday in Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, “Gaudete” being the Latin word for “Rejoice.” Even in the darkening days of December, even in a lousy year like 2020, you and I have reasons to rejoice. Jesus gives us joy! The knowledge that we are right with God because of our Savior. The anticipation, the looking forward to, all that will be ours when Christ comes again–it’s like a kid seeing the Christmas presents under the tree, even though it’s not time yet to open them. This gives us a joy that is deeper and more profound than the ups and downs of mere happiness. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation.”

This year of 2020, as bad as it has been in many respects–and it has been, we’re not sugar-coating that–even so, this year 2020 is the year of the Lord’s favor. Because he has not stopped being among us. Through Word and Sacrament, Jesus has been here all year long. And he will continue to be, for the rest of this year and on into 2021. You have Jesus’ promise on this: “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” “And lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, this year, 2020, believe it or not–no, wait, believe it!–this is the year of the Lord’s favor!

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

Published in: on December 12, 2020 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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