Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Narrative Lectionary: Light to the Nations, Isaiah 42:1-9 (Matthew 12:15-21)
Today is Gaudete Sunday, which means “Rejoice.” Often, the third candle of the Advent wreath is a pink candle, or rose candle, as it is also called Rose Sunday. In the early tradition of Advent, the season was forty days, mirroring Lent, and a period of fasting. Gaudete Sunday was a day to break the fasting and celebrate, for Christmas is drawing near.
The readings from the Hebrew Scriptures continue to follow Isaiah in this Advent season. The prophet turns to hope of return from exile in 35:1-10. Before the “voice cries out in the wilderness” in 40:3, the prophet notes the wilderness and desert rejoice and blossom because of the glory of God. The prophet encourages the people to have courage because God is coming to deliver them, to lead them out of exile to home. Isaiah uses images of people with physical disabilities, including those who are blind, deaf, mute, or paralyzed, to symbolize spiritual limitations. In the time of Isaiah, people with disabilities were often excluded from the greater community, unable or unallowed to participate. The prophet uses these images to show that the limitations have been removed from the people. As twenty-first century readers, we need to focus on the liberation from the limitations of societal participation, for that was the image Isaiah was invoking, not a miraculous curing. All will be called to God’s Holy Way. The unclean—those who will not keep God’s ways—will fall away, but all others will follow God’s holy way into liberation.
Psalm 146:5-10 sings of God who made heaven and earth and is mindful of the most vulnerable among us. God is a God of justice: feeding the hungry, supporting those who are disabled, and removing oppression. God watches over the strangers and the widows and orphans, all those who are pushed to the margins of society. Those who do not follow God’s ways will meet their end, but those who are faithful will know God’s faithfulness.
An alternative to the psalm is Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46b-55. Mary, echoing the Song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2, responds to God working in her life and sings of God doing wonderful, mighty things for all the people. God’s justice flips over the tables and fills the hungry and sends the rich away empty. God’s justice brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly. For those who are in places of privilege and have all the resources they need, this will not be good news, but for the oppressed and marginalized, God has come to help them. This is in accordance with the promises God made to their ancestors and to the people forever.
James 5:7-10 encourages the believers to be courageous and be patient, for the day of the Lord is near. James warns the believers not to grumble against one another, because God takes notice of everything. Earlier in the letter, James warned against judgment because God is the ultimate judge, and God is drawing near, so James repeats this warning. This passage concludes with James reminding the faithful of the endurance and suffering of the prophets before them.
John wonders if Jesus is the one to come, or if they were supposed to wait for another in Matthew 11:2-11. John, who was in prison at the time, sent word through his own disciples to Jesus questioning if he was the Messiah. Jesus’s response to the messenger was simply to tell John what he witnessed: the disabled are included and have good news, the dead are raised, and the sick are healed. In Jesus’s day, disabled people could not work, they could only beg. Good news was brought to those who had been left out, as they would not be left out of God’s reign. Perhaps John and others were still expecting a Messiah who would bring about a worldly kingdom, wearing the robes of kings or perhaps the powerful voice of a prophet commanding leaders, but Jesus was at work among the poorest, most vulnerable people. John the Baptist may have been the greatest prophet to be born, but the least in the kingdom of heaven would be greater than he—John could not envision a kingdom not of this world.
The Narrative Lectionary also focuses on Isaiah in 42:1-9, the first of the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah. While later Christians looked at these passages and saw Jesus represented, the people of Isaiah’s day, returning from exile, saw themselves—the people of Israel—as the one who had served God and had suffered. God’s spirit was among them as they returned from the exile, a witness to the nations around them. The people had survived and became a light to the nations, a witness of how God is the Liberator, the one who hears the cries and relieves the suffering. There is no other God, and God is bringing forth something new.
The supplemental passage is Matthew 12:15-21, in which the writer of Matthew’s gospel quotes Isaiah 42, linking the suffering servant to Jesus as he ministered among the people, healing those who were sick and suffering from disease. Quoting from the Septuagint, this translation suggests that “the Gentiles will have hope.” Looking at Isaiah’s time, the understanding would be that the hope was in understanding God as the God of liberation, the one who rescues and redeems the faithful, and that Israel was a light to all nations. For Matthew, the writer is trying to foreshadow Jesus’s own work in grafting the Gentiles into the family tree of Israel.
On this Sunday, we rejoice in God our Savior, a God who has remained faithful to all of us through the promises made to our ancestors in the faith long ago. God continues to work for our liberation from oppression in this world, the world we have made. God continues to pay attention and be most mindful of those our society often marginalizes and leaves out: those experiencing poverty, widows, orphans, disabled folks—and God prepares a way for them. When we see good news for all people, including the “least” among us, then we see the Gospel. If there isn’t good news for the poor, the disabled, all those who are pushed out, those who fear for their lives such as LGBTQ persons—if it’s not good news for them, it isn’t the Gospel. The Gospel is one who remembers and lifts up those who have been pushed out. We are still waiting for the day of the Lord, and in the meantime, as James warns us, we need one another. We need to find a way forward together, but especially for those we have often left out.
Call to Worship (from Luke 1:46b-47, 49, 52-52, 55a)
Our soul magnifies the Lord,
And our spirit rejoices in God our Savior.
For the Mighty One has done great things for us,
And holy is God’s name.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
And lifted up the lowly.
God has filled the hungry with good things,
And sent the rich away empty.
According to the promise God made to our ancestors,
We worship our God of liberating love!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of the People, we rejoice with Mary’s song every year, yet we do not allow her words to break open our hearts. We still prop up the rich and powerful while the hungry beg on our streets. We still push people to the margins, especially the most vulnerable, and we imprison those who are in most need of help. May we hear Mary’s call, O God, and may our hearts break open. May we be challenged by these words and in our desire for peace and harmony recognize that if there are people oppressed among us, there can be no peace and there is no good news. May we live into Mary’s song and work to let the oppressed go free, to bring in those from the margins, to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty—even if it means for those of us with privilege to let go. Help us to do this holy work, O God, and work in us this Advent season to live into Your reign here on earth and bring the good news. Amen.
In accordance to the promises God made to our ancestors of faith, may we know that God’s steadfast love never ceases and God’s mercies are renewed every day. May we seek in this season to repent and turn back to God’s ways, and repent to each other of where we have gone wrong. May we work to bring reparation and healing in our relationships and in this world. May we live into God’s love, made known to us in the Word made Flesh that dwelled among us, and know God’s forgiveness and restoration in our own lives. Amen.
Joyful God, we rejoice in You this season! We are glad for the wonder and awe that Advent brings us as we prepare for Christmas. As we are still in a pre-post-Covid world, we’ve experienced much loss and grief in recent years. While we’ve eased up on some restrictions, we still take precautions, and we may be a bit timid in truly embracing joy. God, help us to know that while we may still be cautious, while we may still be careful for the well being of others and ourselves, we can fully rejoice in You, knowing that You are making all things new. We look to the future with hope, and we prepare our hearts to make room for You, for You are our Joy to the World! Amen.