December 20, 2023

Proclaim the Year of the Lord’s Favour

Prayer for Understanding

God of wisdom, shine the light of Your truth on us as we listen for Your Word, speaking in the Scriptures. Open our hearts to receive that Word which can change our minds, and our lives through the grace of Jesus Christ, Your Living Word.  Amen

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch is about a bitter, grouchy, solitary green creature who is living as a hermit on the snowy Mount Crumpit, a steep high mountain just north of the town of Whoville, home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos.

The Grinch has no room in his heart for Christmas, but the little people in Whoville celebrate Christmas passionately. They decorate, exchange gifts, and sing songs - and this really annoys the Grinch.

So, he attempts to put an end to Christmas by stealing Christmas-themed items, such as Christmas trees, presents, food, and even the logs for fire, from the homes of the Whos on Christmas Eve. He and his loyal dog Max execute the evil plan. He cleans out the whole village.

After all night stealing stuff from the houses of Whoville, the Grinch travels back to the top of Mount Crumpit, intending to dump all of the Christmas stuff into the abyss. As dawn arrives, the Grinch pauses for a second, hoping to hear wailings and bitter cries from Whoville down below.

But instead, he hears joyful singing: the Whos gather and sing - just like they always had. The Grinch is puzzled until it dawns on him, and says, "Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more" than just gifts, feasts, and the decorations.

There are only 8 days left until Christmas. How’s the season of Advent going with you?  Many of you must be busy baking cookies, writing Christmas cards, or preparing Christmas gifts for your family and friends. In this busyness, let us pause and remember that Jesus is the reason for the season.

As with the last two Sundays of Advent, the Old Testament reading comes from the book of Isaiah.

Verse 1 of today’s passage, at first glance, seems like Isaiah is speaking of himself.  “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me.” However, this was the messianic prophecy.

Jesus quoted this passage as his inaugural speech. In Luke ch 4, we see Jesus returning to His hometown Nazareth after He was baptized by John the Baptist and was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. On the Sabbath in the synagogue, when He was invited to read the scroll, He opened exactly this passage and read it.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”

After reading this, Jesus made a startling statement, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, He says, “That is me. The Messiah that you have been waiting for is here and now.” Then, Jesus revealed His mission on the earth - what kind of ministry He would lead.

“The year of the Lord’s favor” refers to the Year of Jubilee, the 50th year, after 7 sabbath years. Every 7 years was a sabbath, after the 7th sabbath or year 49, there was the Year of Jubilee, the 50th year.

The year of the Lord’s favor was a year of rest for both the land and people, forgiving debts, freeing slaves, and restoring relationships. It was a time for people to return to their families and loved ones.

The coming of Jesus Christ into the world ushered us into the “year of the Lord’s favor.” The time of God’s grace, redemption, and deliverance is now at hand, and all are invited to come to Christ in repentance and, by faith, receive the gift of eternal life.

Jesus came to bring the Good News to the poor. In ancient days as well as today, the poor and marginalized have been the hardest hit. We, who live in the 21st century in North America cannot possibly understand the miserable and undignified life of the poor in the ancient days. And I don’t think we can truly understand today’s poverty either.

When I was living in Toronto, the community we lived in was one of the poorest and most dangerous communities in the city. There were many immigrants, refugees, single moms, multi-families living in a single-family home, high-school dropouts, etc.

Some of them were living in quite inconceivable environments. A family with 5 children sharing a small two-bedroom apartment was not unusual at all. To them, poverty is a vicious cycle, and life may seem hopeless. However, even that may seem fortunate to many people in underdeveloped countries.

Yet, aren’t we all poor in spirit? The poor in spirit are people who recognize their own spiritual poverty—they realize their desperate need for God, turn to Him, and receive the richest blessings He graciously offers through faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus came to both the poor and oppressed, as well as the poor in spirit to proclaim the Good News of hope - the Good News of salvation.

Jesus came to heal the broken-hearted. Undoubtedly we all have had our hearts broken due to a failed relationship, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or disappointment. Some of you may have spent many days and nights dampening handkerchiefs and pillows with your tears.

But the Good News is that we have access to the power of the Spirit of God who alone “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Jesus, the wounded healer came to wipe the tears, heal the wounds, and take away our pain. We can trust that amid trying times, God is with us and goes through our trials with us.

Jesus came to proclaim liberty (freedom) to the captives. Judah was captive in Babylon for 70 years. Even after, they were constantly invaded by the more powerful countries like Persia, Greece, and Rome.

In Jesus’ time, the Jews were under the Roman Empire. That is why they longed for the Messiah who would bring political freedom. But God’s plan was much more vast than they could ever have imagined.

Through His Son Jesus, God brought freedom from all captivities for all the people. We were captive in fear, unforgiveness, emotional or physical abuse, captive to addictions, or relational dysfunction. But most of all, we were chained by the heaviness of sin. Yet, Jesus came to set us free from the captivity of sin.

Jesus came to release prisoners from the darkness. We were once blind but now we see. We were once lost but now we are found by God. Jesus came as our Redeemer to release us from the darkness of sin. Maybe some of you are still captive in unforgiveness and fear or prisoners in darkness. IF so, be set free today in Jesus!

The coming of Jesus Christ into the world relieves us of all spiritual debts and our slavery to sin. Jesus proclaims to us, “I am here to let you be at rest in me, to set you free, to release you, to restore you.”

To some of you, this Christmas season can be quite challenging. For some of you, it’s tougher because you have lost your loved ones and are experiencing grief. Some of you may feel lonlier because you cannot celebrate Christmas with your loved ones for different reasons.

However, remember that Jesus has transformed ashes into a crown of beauty; mourning into the oil of gladness; and a spirit of despair into a garment of praise.

So today, look at Jesus. We can delight greatly not because of our circumstances, Christmas decorations, feasts, or Christmas carols, but in Jesus our Savior, the greatest gift of all.

Furthermore, as the ones who have heard the Good News of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, as the ones who have been set free, and who have seen the Light, we are called to share the great joy of salvation with those who are around us.

Who are the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, and the oppressed around you? Who are the marginalized around you who need to hear the proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor?

Indigenous people, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ2S people, persons with disabilities, the homeless, the addict, children and youth in care, people living in institutions, or the mentally ill?

To you, who needs the message of God’s grace and love - the true message of Christmas this season?

Last Sunday, we heard from Trevor and Tom the stories of the families with whom we were privileged to share God’s love. We gave little but God multiplied the gifts with great blessings.

Trevor came to me and shared his vision of supporting and sponsoring refugee families as a church in the new year. He mentioned how much they need someone to talk to and someone to teach them English and the culture of Canada.

Can you speak English? Can you spare one hour a week? Maybe that’s all you need to bring the Good News of Hope and Joy to them.

Friends, like the Whos in Whoville, we may not have what we thought we should have to be joyful this Christmas season. Yet, we have Christ Jesus who so tenderly embraces us.

The joy we have is rooted in Jesus. The joy we have today is deep and lasting joy. Let us shine the light of JOY and tell the world that the Savior was born and He will come again. Maranatha! O Lord, Come!

Let us pray.

Father God, we thank You for the many gifts You have given us. But above all the blessings we’ve received, we are most grateful for the greatest gift - Your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ who has proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor. So today we delight immeasurably in the birth of Jesus, eagerly waiting for the second coming of Jesus. In the name of Jesus, our Savior, we pray.  Amen