Soul Talk Advent Series 2019: 'Words to Live a Life by'
Guest Blogger: Thomas Dean
‘All I want for Christmas is... another General Election’. Said nobody in 2019. But here we are, bombarded with hourly controversies, daily exposés and endless sloganeering. Our thumbs scrolling us through feeds that feed us the same polemics on repeat. As algorithms drive us further apart and the ability to listen well wanders off into the dark and the cold, we’re hungry for any sign of hope.
Words, words, everywhere. But very few that we can trust. And even fewer to live by.
In Nazareth, on his home turf, Jesus did some scrolling of his own (sorry). He unrolled the prophecies of Isaiah in the synagogue and began to read.
This would be His manifesto.
Moments later in Luke 4 we get the closest thing to Jesus as Action Hero as somehow he eludes an angry mob trying to chuck him off a cliff edge. In the words of Ron Burgundy - that escalated quickly.
It wasn’t the reading of Isaiah 61 itself that riled up the worshippers, it was the audacity that Jesus had to directly tether this famous Messianic prophecy to himself, then proceed to lament their lack of faith and tactfully highlight two of the few stories of God working miracles outwith the people of Israel. These were not the words of a preacher angling to be voted in as local pastor. This was more someone desperate to avoid a repeat dinner party invite.
‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’.
There’s been a lively debate about what we expect from royalty recently. Don’t worry, I’m not wading in. Very simply, in God’s kingdom, where Jesus is King. This is what we can expect;
Good News. Favour. Justice. Freedom.
Jesus singled out a few words and bellowed them around the synagogue. Two verses, dense in historical imagery. The anointing language points to Jesus’ kingship. The Year of the Lord’s Favour is talking about Jubilee. Not an anniversary, or a trainline. But the best, and most widely ignored idea for radically dealing with social injustice that God’s people had ever come across. Way back from Moses’ day. The redistribution of wealth, accompanied by the emancipation of slaves and freedom from debt for those who would’ve had no chance.
The inauguration of Jesus’ ministry wasn’t a three year strategic plan but the realisation of a new world order. This was a revolution. The old was on the way out, the long awaited had arrived. And still, they hated it.
God has not forgotten about the prisoners. But we have. And we hate it being pointed out to us.God’s mission is to release those oppressed into complete freedom. But ours is not.
God’s Good News is a threat to the systems and structures that keep everything neat and tidy for us. And so we develop apologetics and theologies that prevent us from taking that first step into the chaos. Even if it would be our first step into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus did more than just proclaim Isaiah’s words. They became his life and pattern, he embodied them fully. His Spirit fused with God’s Spirit. It was a life of subversive critique of the religious and spiritual powers propping things up in the 1st Century. Jesus fleshed out Isaiah’s prophetic dreams of hope, determined that people would get a good long look at the Father’s love in action. And they did, they had a good long look - and they killed Him.
It’s one thing proclaiming the saviour story at a nativity, community carols or even in the prison. It’s another taking the manifesto for God’s kingdom and living like its life or death to the world around you. Working for justice, lifting up the poor, proclaiming Jesus’ as the Anointed One. Things haven’t changed that much, the purer the expression of love we find, the more the powers of this world kick back. That’s expected.
But Jesus gives us words to live by. Words that lead us to living water. Words that invite us to more, to look over walls of division into God’s abundance. Words that also lead us to the same rejection, misunderstanding and abandonment that Jesus experienced as He announced Good News in his hometown.
Advent is waiting for God to act - shining a light on the relentless productivity and obsessive connectivity we’ve adopted in full.
Advent is resistance - in acknowledging that this anointed man, Jesus, has indeed fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by becoming King of Heaven and Earth. We pledge our allegiance to Him, and refuse to put the weight of our lives on governments and corporations.
Advent is a declaration: The King of Good News is coming. The King of Freedom has come. The Kingdom of Jubilee is closer than we think. And King Jesus will come again.
Thomas Dean is the pastor of Stenhouse Baptist Church in West Edinburgh