Tuesday of Advent III – Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

For I the Lord love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
    and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring shall be known among the nations,
    and their descendants in the midst of the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge them,
    that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
    to sprout up before all the nations.

Have you gardened or even just successfully nurtured a houseplant? My father had intended to be a farmer before God called him to tend the Lord’s flock as a pastor. Being a country preacher in the Midwest, his children were all marshaled to plant, weed, harvest, and process what his large garden produced. I did not enjoy that so much all the time, but now I find that I love my garden.

Toward the end of this reading, Isaiah piles up the imagery of what God is doing. He describes our joy as a person who finally has enough clothes, then he moves into very well dressed people, a bridegroom looking good in the ancient version of a tuxedo or a bride in her pretty dress and holding out her ring for all to admire. And then he says it is like a garden sending up its shoots.

I really relate to that last one. I love to watch something grow in my garden. But ask any gardener about what it takes to grow good things and he or she will tell you that it takes a lot of dead and rotting stuff, compost, or even better, a good dose of well-rotted manure. God causes his righteousness to spring up like a garden makes seeds spring up. I will be glad to put this year in the rear-view mirror with the rest of us. This year has been one of much tumult, sorrow, change, and loss. Isaiah, however, reminds us that out of the compostable stuffs of life, the used coffee grounds of politics, the potato peelings and onion skins of labor unrest, the celery trimmings of conflict and political gridlock, and so much more, God makes his righteousness to grow. We want to throw it out, be rid of this useless or even rotting stuff. But nothing is outside of God’s ability to use it in his kingdom and to cause righteousness to grow.

I looked out the window of my house the other day and a family come walking by. Mom and dad were talking, two little people were riding a bike and a scooter. They stopped by the big truck across the street which held the remains of a tree which had been cut down. Little people walked around this massive machine and chattered. I know that God is building that family and doing good things in this time in that home.

Take hope and rejoice. Yes, the world is really messed up. But God still loves it and He still causes his righteousness to spring up, like seeds in a garden. The things we are so eager to be rid of may well be the makings of beautiful flowers and ample produce.

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