The Fourth Friday of Advent
December 23, 2001
O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. (Psalm 96:1-2)
We wait for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions before you are many, and our sins testify against us. Our transgressions indeed are with us, and we know our iniquities: transgressing, and denying the Lord, and turning away from following our God, talking oppression and revolt, conceiving lying words and uttering them from the heart. Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and whoever turns from evil is despoiled. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. (Isaiah 58:11b-15)
Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel. (Luke 1:67-80)
The prophet Isaiah was not shy about letting everyone know that their world was a wreck, and that God was keenly aware of the problems generated by his own people. That Israel would turn her back on God and lose sight of justice would break God’s heart and cause him to take action. The people had already suffered the consequence of their unfaithfulness by being hauled off into exile. But there was more that God would do.
Would God destroy his people and wipe them from the earth? Would he shoot lightning bolts and raise up hordes of scorpions to punish them? After all, isn’t that the way of angry deities? No, God would one day do something even more outlandish than that, and scandalize the world with his reckless behavior.
He would forgive them, and rescue them from themselves and all that sought to destroy them.
The psalmist relishes in God’s salvation for his wayward people, long before Jesus arrives on the scene. In Zechariah’s song of praise, he rejoices in the birth of his son, John, and looks ahead to his announcement that God is bringing forgiveness to his people.
Christmas is expressed in many ways: Through worship, in family and friendship, with acts of kindness of generosity. But at it’s heart it is about God’s reckless, unfathomable forgiveness that has come in and through his Son, Jesus.
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