“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….” (Isaiah 61:1-2a)
Wait a minute! Don’t we hear that somewhere else? Of course! We hear if from Jesus.
“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,because he has anointed meto bring good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim release to the captivesand recovery of sight to the blind,to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’” (Luke 4:16-19)
So, this Sunday as we find ourselves in the story just before the public presentation of Jesus the adult (that is, just before the baptism and, in John, the encounter with the first disciples) and in the church calendar just before the celebration of Jesus the infant, we also find ourselves just at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, at least as recorded by Luke. In the context of Luke, we would say that this is Jesus’ opening description of his own ministry. Surely to those who heard Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth this would bring to mind not just the memory of Isaiah’s prophecy, but also the context in which he prophesied. He prophesied to folks who had returned to Jerusalem, only to find that it wasn’t all that they had hoped. So in Jesus’ time Jerusalem was not all that the people might hope: occupied by Roman troops, ruled by cooperation – one might even say conspiracy – between a Roman governor, a puppet king, and the religious establishment, but certainly not by God.
In the midst of that confusion, that darkness, John comes baptizing and preaching. When representatives of the religious establishment come and ask, “Who are you,” all he says at first is who he is not: “Not Messiah, not Elijah, not even the prophet predicted by Moses.” Whoever he is, he finds more important who he is not. “I’m one calling you to prepare. Another is coming, greater than I, and I am not worthy to be his slave.”
These days as we look at a world that is not all that we might hope – wars and rumors of wars, economic injustice, and a world apparently ruled by those whose first question is, “What’s in it for me and mine” – we are called to be people of hope. We are called to proclaim as Jesus did that God’s intent is good news and health and freedom and restoration. We are called to proclaim the time when the Lord’s grace will rule all, when all things will be set just as God intends. It isn’t necessarily easy, and it won’t always be heard. That doesn’t matter. Jesus confirmed what Isaiah proclaimed: that God’s plan is for wholeness and restoration. In our generation, it’s our vocation to pass that on.