Advent: The Forgotten Purpose
This year for Advent, I'm following a daily reading through Isaiah. Between now and December 24 I'll be sharing some thoughts from that process. There is a side of Isaiah, an aspect of God, that I haven't often heard of in the many sermons I've sat through in my relatively brief life. Most references to the prophet elevate either God's opposition to idols (as well as Israel's love for them), or the Messianic promises about Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection. These things are good, they are after all in Isaiah, but as I pick up the book again for advent I find an awkwardly high number of references that affirm what I've found elsewhere. A large part of the message of Isaiah, especially the parts that Jesus said were true of himself, declares that God's heart is bent toward the poor, the beaten down, the oppressed, and the lonely. In fact, the clearest reference in chapter 1 to what the iniquity is that God wants to cleanse from Israel is this:
"Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widows cause." (Vs 17 My emphasis).
It is important enough that he mentions it again just a few verses later in the negative sense, speaking of rebel princes:
"Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow's cause does not come to them." (vs 23).
Jesus reiterates this as his mission statement when he reads from what we now call Isaiah 61:1 in the synagogue in his hometown Nazareth.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Before you throw me under the bus as saying "Jesus came to liberate poor people from their circumstances. The end," I should note that what He accomplished was far bigger than that. He did not simply come to establish social order that elevates the standard of living of the poor until they die or only give the oppressed a voice. But if the beat down, the enslaved, the "least of these" as Jesus put it, tear at our maker's heart, shouldn't they tear at our own?