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 (Isaiah 61:1).
This passage from Isaiah seems to be an odd reading for Advent. What does it have to do with Sweet Baby Jesus? It is a familiar passage, nonetheless, to those who are familiar with the Gospel of Luke.
When Jesus returns from the wilderness and publicly launches his ministry, this is the passage he reads, and concludes with this statement: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus lays out this passage from Isaiah as his mission statement. This is what he has come to do.
When we talk about the coming of Jesus, when we wait and watch, I wonder how many of us in the church think about this passage as our own mission statement. After all, if we are followers of Jesus, shouldn’t we be doing what Jesus does? Shouldn’t we adhere to Jesus’ mission statement?
Yes, I know. It’s Christmas and our congregations are hard at work collecting toys and food for the poor of this community. That’s a good thing. But what about the other 364 days of the year?
What are we doing to engage Jesus’ mission statement on those days? How are we bringing (not just proclaiming, but bringing) good news to the oppressed, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to captives, release to the prisoners?
A couple of years ago, I was working with some seminary students as they surveyed a neighborhood in south Atlanta, one of the most economically depressed areas in the state.
Within an area of about 1.5 square miles, they discovered some 30 churches. What was most disheartening was that most of these churches were surrounded by gates and locked fences.
Most of them had no visible presence in the neighborhood beyond these heavily secured buildings. Once a week, members of the congregations arrived on scene, opened the locked gates and “worshiped.” When worship was over, they locked up the church and left the neighborhood as quickly as possible.
One of the students asked, “If the church is supposed to be a hospital for sinners, then why doesn’t it keep hospital hours?” Yes! Why not?
I believe one of the most important questions a church can ask itself today is: “If we close our doors tomorrow and fold this church, would anybody (beyond those who gather here for Sunday worship) miss us?” If we cannot give a strong, “Yes,” in answer to that and put names and faces to it, maybe we aren’t really following after Jesus.
The spirit of the Lord is upon me … can you feel the Spirit?
The Rev. Camille Josey is the pastor at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church.