Sunday, December 13, 2020

Moriah Hurst: Joy instead of mourning

Advent 3: JOY
Luke 4:16-21; Isaiah 61:1-11

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Joy instead of mourning - Isaiah 61:1-11 and Luke 4:16-21

Hope, peace and joy. We have celebrated these three themes in our Advent waiting. What is it that you are waiting for? Where is your desire and longing? Does it feel matched by these words and ideas of hope, peace and joy? Or does it seem hard to hope, peace feels allusive and joy is something we grasp at like trying to hold onto smoke.

In a time when our country is faced with upheaval and divisions these concepts seem hard. People across the country face evictions from their homes and have lost their jobs. Unemployment payments are running out. Covid rips through prisons and there is nowhere to run when you are trapped in a cell breathing the same infected air as the cells around you. Vaccines are going to be available but who will get them first and who will resist them? There are hearts breaking with grief, the pain of repeated and continuing loss.

We need to hear that God is sending one:

to proclaim good news to the poor.

 to bind up the brokenhearted,

    to proclaim freedom for the captives

    and release from darkness for the prisoners,


We cry out with advent longing: come O Lord, come!


The advertisements I see and hear tell me this is a season that should be marked by joy. The people who would have heard this Isaiah passage first might have felt similar dissonance to us today.

Overall, life has (not been great) for God’s people up to the point of our reading from Isaiah 61. The injustice and idolatry in the kingdom of Judah led to the destruction of the city and the temple, and then to a forced relocation of the people to a land not their own. The people waited for release and return to their homeland, but even when that happened, the city, the temple, and the land were still in ruins.” (

They are back in the Promised Land but their postexilic life isn’t living up to everything they had hoped it to be.

We hear this promise in the text:

 They will rebuild the ancient ruins

    and restore the places long devastated;

they will renew the ruined cities

    that have been devastated for generations. Verse 4

But the hard truth is the end of exile doesn’t mean happily ever after. “Make the promise land great again” just wasn’t cutting it. There was no going back to what was, only forward into what will be. Yet some of what led to the exile, in their theological understanding of it, was not doing justice or caring for the least of these and that injustice still existed. (Pulpit Fiction Podcast, Narrative Lectionary -

As they would have heard Isaiah’s words they would have been wrestling with this hope promised but not yet a reality. In the same way that “emancipation didn’t end slavery, that the civil rights movement didn’t end segregation, and that 8 years of a black president didn’t end racism – we are still struggling with these things. There is not a switch flipped and it was the same with exile,” (Pulpit Fiction Podcast, Narrative Lectionary -

Do we feel like we are in exile this year? Cut off from one another and separated. We long with the exiles to go back to what was, our shiny life before March 2020. But we can’t go back, only forward. Our difficulties didn’t begin with the COVID virus. “it didn’t begin our times of trouble. Economic disparity, educational divides, mental health issues didn’t start with the pandemic – they were there before but now they are magnified and brought to the forefront and a vaccine won't fix all of this.” (Pulpit Fiction Podcast, Narrative Lectionary -

Isaiah’s prophesy that Jesus stands up and reads is one of present joy with the hope of a coming peace. This is a vision of a great reversal of outcomes and a grand reset. “Those who are oppressed go free, those who are brokenhearted are healed, those who are captives and prisoners are released, and those who are blind are given sight” (

Like many of you I work a lot on my computer right now. As I close the lid to my laptop it puts it to sleep but doesn’t shut it down. About once a week I find that things start getting glitchy. I can’t get sound on zoom or some keyboard command function stops working. I remember that I have to shut the whole thing down, step away from the computer for a while and then restart it all. When I turn it back on again things seem to right themselves, fixing their little bugs.

We see in the words of Isaiah the God of justice who will right the systems. A God who will do a hard reset, which I know I long for and we need.

Before we get too caught up in how beautiful and lofty these words sound and get misty eyed about a world to come, it is important to think about what is not being said here. This is not about me and I, not an individualized salvation but communal, society righting of wrongs. This is not getting joy from personal happiness or the glitz and glitter of a pretty manger scene but true comfort to those who are wronged, marginalized and caught in cycles of poverty and violence. This is good news!

 The Spirit of God comes to initiate a repair of society from the inside out, from the bottom rung to the top. And the ones called to partner in rebuilding are those who suffered in the former regime (economically, judicially, physically, and spiritually).” (

The renewing of cities is a picture of a new community and economy. This is a vision of foreigners as a vital part of us not only there to work for us or to be abolished from the land. (Pulpit Fiction Podcast, Narrative Lectionary - The outsider is included, not cast out. God is calling us away from exploitation and into justice.

 For I, the Lord, love justice;

    I hate robbery and wrongdoing. Verse 8

And we respond with rejoicing knowing that we are wrapped in God’s salvation and righteousness. God is offering joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair, rejoicing beyond our shame and disgrace. Because as this good news is proclaimed we are invited in as partners with the Spirit in this work of restoration.

Today's reading ends with an image. A seed planted in the darkness of the earth now, yet it will sprout and grow – a future hope that brings us present joy.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots,

And as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,

So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise

to spring up before all the nations. Verse 11


I am reminded of the words: “they tried to bury us, they didn’t know that we were seeds”. What in us is falling to the ground and dying right now? What from us will be held in the earth, close to God’s heart, waiting to burst forth and be reborn. We wait as seeds for restoration – not just a return to normal.

I wonder what words Jesus would step up and read to us today. What is our contemporary message?

Welcome to the foreigner fleeing and waiting at our boarder.

Freedom to those hiding from cultural shaming of their sexual identity.

God’s strong hand of justice crushing racism and raising up those who have been hurt by the legacy of racial injustice in our land.

Homes for the homeless, security for those who don’t have enough to eat and can’t pay their bills.

Calm and stability for those whose mental health dips and dives as their isolation grows.


This good news not just for us, the insider or the chosen ones, but for all people and all nations. Being partners in this work calls us to joy.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,

My whole being shall exult in my God. verse 10

The Jesus we wait for in advent will fulfill these promises. Our coming savior brings hope, peace and joy. May we find God’s seeds of justice creatively planted in us in this time of waiting.

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