Saturday, December 20, 2008

Healing Presence

Isaiah 61:1-11

The day that we’ve been anticipating is at the door step. There are just a few more shopping days and a bit more time for the parties, before Christmas arrives. It’s so close you can taste it and smell it. But, it’s not quite here yet. You may be shaking the boxes and feeling the packages, but it’s not time to open them just yet.

The time for waiting is still with us. I know it’s not easy, but I think that it will be worth the wait. Remember how Jesus told the gathered disciples to wait for the coming of the Spirit. The disciples were probably wondering: Why wait? Why not get going now? The answer: There are still things to do before the Spirit can come in its fullness. What was true for them, is true for us.

As we wait for the time of revealing, we again listen to the words of Isaiah. These words, as we’ve already discovered, were spoken to people living in exile. The exiles were waiting expectantly, hoping against hope, that their day of freedom would come soon.

As we hear these words, what message do they bring to us? What do they tell us about the promised one, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Eve? Listen to these words that Jesus would centuries later pick up and read in the synagogue at Capernaum:

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 broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. . . .

When Jesus finished reading this very same passage that we’ve read today, he said to the congregation: “This is my mission. This is what God has called me to do with my life. God is calling me and empowering me to bring healing and wholeness to a broken world” (Lk 4:16ff).


With these words, Jesus defined his own mission in life. The question is, how do we hear these words? What do they tell us about how we should live in the world? If we’re called to participate in the mission of God, then how might this passage help define that mission?

The promise held out to us is this: God will restore to health a broken and fractured world. Yes, according to the prophet, God will bring good news to the oppressed, the broken hearted, the captives, and the imprisoned. And the news that comes to us is this: While Jesus took the first shift, he has passed on the mantle to us. We are his body, and as his body we carry with us this mantle of hope.

When you’re a child, Christmas is often about receiving gifts. We like to ask for big things: bikes, computers, and I-Pods. No socks or underwear will do. But as we grow older and more mature, we discover that Christmas is also about giving. Better to give than to receive, say the Scriptures. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in an appropriately titled book, To Heal a Fractured World, says that the ones who are happy among us, are the ones in whom “the desire to give is stronger than the desire to have.” *

As we journey through Advent, we bring our offerings of money, of talent, and of time, into the presence of God, and we dedicate them to the healing of our world. We bring clothing and gifts for Head Start, food and money for Troy People Concerned, along with our special offerings for Disciple outreach. Throughout the year we’re called on to look outward and discern what God would have us do in response to the needs of the community and the world. It might not seem like much, but when we give, we know that God is present in the gift, bringing healing to those who are brokenhearted and hurting. Such gifts as these light the fires of the Christmas spirit in the hearts of those touched by God’s love.


While, it’s better to give than to receive, there are times and places, when we stand in need of healing and wholeness. We’ve been called on by God to look outward, and attend to the needs of others, but there’s also a time and place to look within and discover the holes in our lives: A health problem or a broken relationship, loneliness or financial difficulties. It doesn’t matter what it is, when we’re broken we seek to be made whole.

Not only individuals experience brokenness. It also happens to congregations, and to communities. And so Paul prays: May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 5:23). To be sound of body and spirit is to be made whole, and the message of Christmas is that Jesus came into the world to make us whole. He touched the blind, the lame, the leper, the deaf, the mentally unstable, and he brought wholeness to their lives. That’s what it means to sanctify someone. By touching them, he made them holy.

Now Jesus didn't heal everyone who was physically, mentally, or spiritually broken, and the world is not yet free from disease, hunger, or violence. So, what kind of healing can we expect?

I once heard a good definition of healing, one that might be useful to us: “Curing is bringing back to normal; healing is bringing back to balance.” Healing can take place even as we find the strength to endure, the ability to overcome, and a sense of purpose so we can move on with life.

Grief doesn’t go away easily, but when we walk in the presence of God we find hope. A dark family secret may haunt us, but as we walk with Jesus, we find the strength and ability to put that secret behind us. Cancer eats at our body, and nothing can stop its spread, but still we find a reason to live until tomorrow. It isn’t easy and the pain doesn’t always go away – but in the presence of God we find balance for our lives. When this happens, we become fit for service in the kingdom of God. Yes, healing is for a purpose!


Now, as we wait for God’s healing presence to be revealed to us in the one who is wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, we stand ready to walk in a new direction. We stand ready to minister to our community, so that its brokenness might be healed.

But even as we look out into the world, hoping to discern God’s mission for our lives, we also look inward. And, as we look inward, we begin to see that God is at work mending our lives, freeing us from guilt, from worry, and from fear. It’s not that we get to evade difficult times, but in Jesus there is strength and there is peace. Therefore, with all the company of heaven we get to celebrate. And that’s what we’ve been preparing for and waiting for.

We have waited in anticipation of the unveiling of God’s presence in the world. When that day comes, we will break forth in songs of praise, singing:

My whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has clothed me with the robe of righteousness, . . .

On this final Sunday of Advent, just days before Christmas, we bear witness to the coming of the one we call Emmanuel, “God with us.” It is he who will bring us the garments of salvation. It is he who will bring healing to our world. And we, yes we, get to join in the celebration. As that old camp song puts it: “it only takes a spark to get a fire going.” I believe that this spark is lit, just as the four candles of Advent have been lit, and before long that fire will take off. So let’s break out in songs of praise, because a fractured world is about to be made whole!

*Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World, (Shocken Books, 2005), 20-21

Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, MI
4th Sunday of Advent
December 21, 2008

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