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Weekly worship: Sunday 17 December

Third Sunday of Advent

A group of Acacia trees in a desert area in Ethiopia

A vision of a restored creation

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Too often maybe, the church has defined justice in terms of punishing the wrongdoer. Isaiah’s vision of God’s justice is far wider – it is the righting of wrongs. Making it right again, restoring, putting it back together – this is his vision of what will happen when God returns to his people.

If God’s anger was stirred by the injustices visited upon the least of society, then his passion is seeing them restored to their rightful place. For the oppressed and broken-hearted, for the captives and the imprisoned, God’s presence will bring them recompense. He will right their wrongs. And he will do so in the here and now. This is not a vision about a perfect life in a heaven beyond the stars. Rather, this is a vision of a restored creation. This is about life before death.

We would be correct as followers of Jesus to read the Isaiah passage as a prophecy about the Messiah. We would do the passage a great injustice, however, if we were to ignore the fact that those who heard his message first – those who had been restored to their homeland, but who were lamenting God’s absence – took this as a promise in their own situation. We are too quick to see Old Testament prophecy as future and spiritual, when in its original context, it was very much present and physical.

He’s not the Messiah

It is fascinating that in among some mystical theology about the Word becoming flesh, John is at pains to say that John the Baptiser is not the Messiah. Why is this? What was it about the prophet John that would make people wonder whether he was indeed God’s anointed? There were no miracles recorded after all. No great preaching either. Just a simple call to repentance.

Could it be that just as those who follow Jesus are to be Christlike, so were those who preceded him? If so, what can we learn about being Christlike from both John the Baptiser and Isaiah? John’s baptism was to do with repentance – and the restoration of those lost and wandering sheep into the fold of Israel. This too was core to Isaiah’s proclamation – God is coming to restore his people and creation.

If in hearing and seeing John’s restoring preaching and baptism, the crowds thought he might have been the Messiah, then that provides us with an important clue as to their expectation of the Messiah. He too was to be a restorer of God’s people. And this is exactly what we see in Jesus’s ministry. Central to that restoration are the poor, the left behind, the sick and the condemned. If they do not receive justice, there is no restoration.

Prayer

Restoring God, we thank you for inviting us to share this ministry of restoration. As each day passes, help us to be more like Jesus. Help us to see opportunities of restoration all around us. Through acts large and small, we ask that your Spirit infuse all that we do. May your kingdom come through our life as well as within it.

Amen.

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