Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Third Sunday of Advent
Analysis by Steven E. Albertin
1The 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 broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to 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. 4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. 8For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
“God offers the gift of God’s MORE.”
Diagnosis: Needing More
Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): “MORE Than Meets The Eye”
There is nothing like an unexpected failure or sudden loss to make us realize that there must be MORE to this life than meets the eye.
That is exactly what happens in today’s First Reading. The prophet Isaiah speaks to the Israelites who are suffering through the disappointment of their return from Exile in Babylon. They had come home only to find the land they once described as “flowing with milk and honey” now lying in ruin. They are “the afflicted, the broken hearted, the captives, those in prison, those who mourn.”
We could say the same things about our world today. Just look at our daily news feeds. Rubble and ruin are everywhere. Intervention is needed. God needs to make some decisive intrusion that will enable new life, halt our march toward death and give us MORE.
Step 2: Advance Diagnosis (Internal Problem): “Less Not MORE”
That is why the words of the prophet must have sounded ridiculous. He has returned with his people from years of exile in Babylon. They had come home with great hopes, looking for MORE, but returned to a city in ruin. Isaiah stands now in the rubble of the temple and his crumbling faith.
How can one speak of a new world, of God’s MORE, in which there is good news, liberty, comfort and garlands instead of ashes . . . when wars rage, disappointments persist, failure abounds and injustice has the world by the throat?
We scoff and wonder how anyone could ever believe such foolishness. Such speech offers MORE, but we only get less. Why bother?”
Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): “There Is No MORE”
At the end of his film “Love and Death” Woody Allen says, “It’s not that I hate God. I have nothing against God. I think that the worst you could say of God is that God is . . . an underachiever.” When the Israelites returned from exile, once again God has not lived up to his reputation.
It looks like God never will. It looks like God is an underachiever. That is the haunting thought lurking in the mind of the prophet and anyone else who has ever been so disappointed. God must have given up on us. There simply is no MORE for us or anyone else.
Prognosis: Having More
Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): “God’s MORE”
Without such intervention, there is no hope. But thanks be to God, because God has intervened and given us . . . MORE. God has delivered us from death and disappointment through the Babe born in Bethlehem, who died on a tree and was raised from the dead. He continues to work the same deliverance when water is splashed in the name of God, when bread is broken and wine is poured and when we hear that wonderful promise, “Your sins are forgiven, . . . all of them . . . because of and for the sake of this Jesus.”
The prophet Isaiah speaks of that same world where there is good news for the oppressed, liberty for the captive, comfort for the broken hearted and garlands instead of ashes. This is God’s MORE. It is the language of the Gospel as God breaks open a new world of new possibilities among us. God offers the gift of God’s MORE.
This is not the MORE of this world. The world would like us to think, especially at this time of the year, that all we need to do to satisfy our desire for MORE is to buy MORE and MORE stuff for under the Christmas tree. But the MORE that God gives us is a world that looks like the Garden of Eden, when the world was the way God wanted it to be, where God is trusted, people are loved and creation is cared for.
Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution): “MORE For You”
In a world where there always seems to be less and not MORE, we now are sure that there is MORE. In the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem we have seen that MORE. Gathered around the Lord’s table, we have actually tasted the kingdom of MORE. When it comes to the grace and mercy of God, we rejoice that there is always MORE than enough.
This is the prophet’s poetic protest against a religion that reduces life to slogans, morals and bumper sticker proverbs. This prophet refuses to be relegated to the conventional. This prophet does not offer a boring rehash of the obvious and the already known. He protests against a Sunday morning worship service that just asks us to adjust and accept what already is . . . instead of giving us a glimpse of MORE. Here are the words that create a new world with new possibilities.
Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution): “MORE For The World”
Once we glimpse God’s MORE and go back out into the world, we are no longer content to accept a world that never has enough. God’s MORE makes it possible for us to be gracious and generous in amazing ways in our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces and the public spaces of our daily lives.
No longer content to accept things as they have always been, we have new hopes, new dreams and new hungers for a different way. We have sipped new wine. We have tasted new food. We want a world with MORE of God’s good things.
Through deeds of generosity and kindness, we show others that there is MORE to this world than meets the eye. We show those who do not have enough that there is hope for MORE. That MORE is already breaking in among us, as Christ comes to give us MORE. His MORE is always MORE than enough and MORE than the world could ever hope to give us.
So, we forgive those who have wronged us. We are patient with our children. We are newly committed to our marriage. We are determined to do what is right instead of what is merely expedient. We are discontent with the injustices in our society. We dare to work for a world with MORE, MORE peace and justice for others, MORE food for the hungry, MORE clothing for the naked and MORE freedom for the oppressed. All because we have tasted God’s MORE . . . . . . of which there is always MORE than enough.