because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
On one of her Christmas albums, singer Amy Grant has a song entitled: A Grown-Up Christmas List. The first line goes like this: "Do you remember me. I sat upon your knee. I wrote to you with childhood fantasies. Well I'm all grown-up now and still need help somehow. I'm not a child, but my heart still can dream. So here's my lifelong wish. My grown-up Christmas list. Not for myself, but for a world in need."
The words of that song stick in my mind as I sit down to ponder Isaiah 61 and its New Testament recitation in Luke 4. Now what does a modern Christmas song have to do with the words of an ancient prophet and the lectionary reading in the Nazareth synagogue? It seems to me that a case can be made that Isaiah 61, is a kind of grown-up Christmas list. A list, as Amy Grant sings, not so much for the prophet himself, but for a world in need.
You can almost see in your mind's eye this aged prophet sitting down at his desk looking out the window over the city of Jerusalem. As he watches the people wander by he is moved by the plight of these recently returned exiles and their struggle to rebuild their lives in the face of countless obstacles. And as he watches; he writes. And as his pen scribbles over the parchment, a grown-up Christmas list develops. As we read these words of Isaiah, four things seem to form the basis of Isaiah's list. First, Isaiah wishes that there would be a little Good News to preach to these poor people. Not only those poor materially and economically, but for those poor in spirit. Good News that would lift them from their poverty and give them real riches. Secondly, he wishes for comfort. Comfort for those whose hearts have be broken upon the rocky shores of reality; whose eyes have not ceased to shed tears over the loss of people near and dear to them. Thirdly, Isaiah yearns for freedom, freedom for all of life's captives. For all those held prisoner by the powers of darkness. Finally as he comes to the end of his list, Isaiah wishes for joy - a joy that would replace the spirit of despair; a joy that would replace the ashes of grief with a crown of beauty; a joy that would break through the clouds and shine a light of hope upon darkened dreams.
Isaiah's wish list encompassed the totality of human life; the political, economic, social and spiritual. It addressed the needs of the captives, the afflicted, the prisoners, those who mourn, all who suffer, all those who await deliverance in any aspect of their life. A pretty comprehensive list, I would say, truly a list for the ages; a list that touches the hopes and dreams of people in every time and every place.
It is a list that includes our deepest dreams as well. For Isaiah's grown-up Christmas list could and should be our own. There is something on this list for everyone. For who of us doesn't need to hear a little Good News. It seems sometimes that all we hear is bad news. Stories of murder and mayhem crowd our papers and television screens. While the indicators of quality of life keep declining; the indicators of despair keep rising. A little Good News would be welcome this year. And who among us doesn't need a little comfort? Who among us hasn't had their lives scrapped and scuffed upon the rough edges of life this year? Some of us are nursing broken hearts. Broken dreams and shattered promises. Maybe you are still mourning a loss; facing the realization that this year there will be one less at the holiday table. Couldn't you use a little comfort right now? A little healing? Or perhaps you can identify with those people who are prisoners of circumstance yearning for liberation. A taste of freedom? Maybe you have struggled this past year with some sin or situation that has kept you bound in the darkness. How you must long to be free from those things which entrap you. And what of us if we are really honest couldn't use an extra shot of joy this holiday season? Every year we keep thinking it will be different; but each year something happens that drains us of our gladness. Wouldn't it be nice to wrap ourselves up in a new garment of praise this Christmas? Good News. Comfort. Freedom. Joy. Yes, there is something on Isaiah's grown-up Christmas list that each of us can honestly say we need this year. For aren't his wishes our wishes too?
Well for almost six hundred years, Isaiah's grown-up Christmas list sat on the shelf. Once a year the people would get it down. Open it up and read its words. And each time it was read the listeners would sigh and place their hopes and dreams alongside of Isaiah's. Year after year after year. Until the day the young teacher came to town. He took the scroll from its place. He opened it. And once again he read through Isaiah's grown-up Christmas list. And once again the people sighed. But then something wonderful happened. Jesus looked at the list. Then he looked at the people. And he said: "I can bring all of this." And he did. And he still does.