Lion of Judah        Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11   December 14, 2008

For us, Christmas comes once a year:  not because of Jesus’ birth, not because of his life that he spent preaching the good news, not because of his death, but because of his resurrection when he became the Good News itself.
 
One might wonder why this passage was selected as a lectionary reading for the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Most likely, because joy is the theme for this Sunday and joy permeates this passage.
 
In fact TNK (Tanakh, which is the Hebrew bible translates 61:1 as follows: “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me as a herald of joy to the humble, To bind up the wounded of heart, To proclaim release to the captives, Liberation to the imprisoned.”
"Good news! God is about to deliver us out of captivity and enable us to restore our ruined home! And we are beside ourselves with joy!"

The people of Judah had been in oppressive captivity for many years, since the Babylonian forces, under King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C. God’s prophetic word now promises deliverance to those imprisoned captives and restoration to Zion (Jerusalem, the Holy City of God — see 52:1 ff. and 62:1 ff.).

Those who would return to Zion will be “oaks of righteousness” (or justice), “the planting of the LORD,” who would glorify the one who had delivered them. Further, they would be empowered to “build up ..., to raise up ..., [to] repair” repair” the ruins of what had lain waste for generations.
 
(3b) They will be called oaks of righteousness,
       the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
(4) They shall build up the ancient ruins,
       they shall raise up the former devastations;
       they shall repair the ruined cities,
       the devastations of many generations.
 
Deliverance from captivity was only part of God’s work among his people; restoration was also an essential part of their blessing and their task. / God offered them sufficient hope / to carry out this work of rebuilding.
 
God does a similar thing for us in the Advent of Jesus: God offers to deliver us ... and to restore us  .... That is some serious good news!

(Verse 1) The Spirit of the Lord God (‘adonai YHWH) anointed the servant to complete several tasks. The same Hebrew verb mashach (“anoint”) was used when God consecrated/ordained priests and kings to have authority for special service.

The first of several tasks of the Lord’s anointed servant was to bring good news, to offer hope to those who were bowed down (a more graphic meaning of the word translated “oppressed”).
“To bring good news” is more literally “to bring news,” but the context makes the news astoundingly good.

To “bind up the brokenhearted” means that those who are broken (or oppressed or humbled) of heart will have their wounds bound up to promote healing.
 
To proclaim means “to shout out” — the LXX and NT Greek is khrussw—to proclaim or to herald the news in an official proclamation.  

(Verses 2 & 3) To comfort means “Zion’s mourners” (NJB) will receive God's blessing. Festive clothing and acts of rejoicing will replace signs of disheartened mourning. Psalm 45:7 speaks of God’s anointing someone “with the oil of gladness.” The Spirit of the Lord will strengthen their own faint spirit. 

The captives rejoiced jubilantly at their announced deliverance from captivity and their anticipated restoration of the ruins of their physical and spiritual home. Jesus saw this work as his own mission, as recorded in Luke, chapter 4. We, his followers, look back with joy to his first advent and look forward to his anticipated coming advent.
 
Jesus has come to save us. With God there is ongoing deliverance and restoration.
 
Our hearts, which may have been turned to stone by life, by pressures, by stress, or illness, or rejection, or loss, can be made free by the breath of God, freed by the good news of Christ.

Peter D. Kramer in his book Against Depression, writes, "The opposite of depression isn’t happiness. The opposite of depression is resilience. It’s not the absence of guilt and sadness, but is the ability to find a path away from those feelings."

Jesus frees us to be resilient, and to find the path to abundant life.
 
That hope is our hope — that Jesus sets us free; it is the hope of all peoples in Christ who are brokenhearted, who are held captive literally or figuratively, who are prisoners in jails, or at work, or in relationships, or in their bodies through illness. Jesus comes and we are set free when we hear and live the good news of salvation.
 
As in many OT prophecies, we find that in Isaiah 61, vengeance is juxtaposed with deliverance. This is because good news for Judah comes out of the defeat of the oppressing enemy (Babylon) — through the oppressor’s defeat the Lord delivers Judah. Through the cross and his resurrection, Jesus defeated death and delivers us to eternal life.
 
Can you hear it?
Thunder in the distance;
When we worship
The Lion of Judah roars.
Strongholds crumble all around us
In the presence of our Lord.

                           —Paul Wilbur, The Shout of El Shaddai.
 
Much about Christmas is an oxymoron.
Christmas celebrates the birth of a little baby boy named Jesus. --Yes.
Christmas celebrates the coming of the divine messianic king into this world.
--Yes.

It is this combination of opposites that makes Christmas true: Divine and Human.

The prophet Isaiah relates the significant names this ruler would be known by
 in chapter 9.

Wonderful Counselor: This is the intimate personal Savior, who offers us wisdom, insight and advice. The Wonderful Counselor hears our every problem, every anxiety, and every fear. The intimate Jesus holds our hand when we are lonely or hurting, offers us his shoulder to cry on when we are sad. The wonderful counselor is the Jesus who "walks with me and talks with me."

Almighty God: In this name Christ's divinity comes pouring through. This is a distant divinity, controlling the universe, combating evil, creating good. We need the reassurance of an Almighty God on our side when we confront the forces of hate and violence in this world. We depend on the long-distance vision of an Almighty God to see us through the confusion of the stages and ages even our brief lifetimes pass through.

Everlasting Father: In this name we are offered the comfort of an eternal Lord. Here is the transcendent stability and assurance that testifies to the validity of our values, the eternity of our ethics.

Prince of Peace: This is an earthly name for our earthy savior. Isaiah related the quality of "peace" to the Davidic throne, the human reign of his messiah. Heaven has no need of a Prince of Peace, but earth surely does. As the Prince of Peace, Jesus strode this earth challenging us to do justice and walk in righteousness -- for those are the immanent ways of peace.

There is yet another oxymoron for Jesus the divine/man; the intimate Wonderful Counselor/distant Almighty God; the eternal Everlasting Father/earthly Prince of Peace. This is the one that has become noticeably more and more popular on Christmas cards in recent years -- Jesus the "Lion and the Lamb."

Jesus is the lion -- for he is the great lion of the tribe of Judah. The kingly ruler: Lord of all. Yet Jesus is also the lamb -- the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

It is as part of his role as "Prince of Peace" that we envision Jesus not only being the lion and the lamb, but enabling the lion and the lamb to lie down together.
 
Only the One who is as strong and fierce as the lion can command the respect of that powerful creature and win him over. Only the One who is as gentle and innocent as the lamb can entice its trembling legs to stay put and stand beside him.

Jesus: the weak and the strong; the innocence of doves, the wisdom of serpents; the intimate and the authoritative. In his earthly ministry, Jesus attested to this dual nature.
 
Two of Jesus' favorite expressions, both of which the evangelists kept in the Aramaic original, were "Abba" and "Amen." "Abba" testified to his sense of intimacy with God and introduced his prayers. "Amen" testified to his sense of authority and introduced his affirmations, "I say to you."

The greatest oxymoron of Christmas is that Jesus, the light and the joy that Isaiah foretold, was born into this world only to die for it. The light of the world was snuffed out on the cross.
 
The Lamb of God was sacrificed for our sake and for our salvation. But the light returned brighter than ever. The sacrificial lamb roared back to life as the lion of God, stronger than ever.

We read in the last book of our Bible, in Revelation 5:5, "Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.""
 
. . . Christmas Begins
When the song of the angels is stilled
when the star in the sky is gone
when the kings and the princes are home
when the shepherds are back with their flocks

. . . The work of Christmas begins
to find the lost
to heal the broken
to feed the hungry
to release the prisoner
to rebuild the nations
to bring peace among the people
to make music in the heart.
           
--Howard Thurman, from a Fellowship of Reconciliation Christmas Card
 
May your holidays be merry and bright as Jesus, the Morning Star, shines on us. Amen.
 
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
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