Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Salvation is something we tend to talk about a lot. And for good reason: it is an important part of God’s work in the world, of God’s work in our lives.
Sometimes, though, our language about salvation can be to our detriment. Too often, perhaps, we talk about salvation in terms of “getting into heaven” or “avoiding hell.” I’m not saying heaven isn’t a part of it; but I am saying that God’s purposes and work of salvation are much bigger than that. And when all we focus on is the next life, we forget that God is working salvation into our lives in the here and now, too.
The salvation of which Isaiah speaks here is not the distant, far-off, other-worldly salvation of getting into heaven. No! It is salvation in the here and now. Salvation that is lived out in community. Salvation that has ramifications for the rest of the world. Salvation that is seen by those around—by “all nations.” It is a salvation that transforms the whole world.
In fact, in order to build his metaphor here, Isaiah reaches back to everyone’s favorite book of the Bible—(Leviticus). Written into the law way back in Leviticus 25 is a concept called the Jubilee year, or the “year of the Lord’s favor.” Every fiftieth year was to be a year of Jubilee, a time of rest, celebration, release, and restoration.
The year of Jubilee is supposed to be a sort of reset button for the world. Land is to be left fallow to rest. The sale of any property in the previous 49 years is voided—property goes back to it’s original owner or heirs. People who were sold into slavery are freed.
The Jubilee year is a dramatic turning back of the clock, intended to ensure that no one’s hardships in life have permanent consequences. It is a means of grace, building into the systems of this world an opportunity for forgiveness and a fresh start.
Back to Isaiah
It’ll be like that, Isaiah imagines, as he anticipates God’s future: Jubilee.
But remember that Jubilee won’t necessarily be a joyful time for everyone. There would be those who grew fat off the misfortune of others, accumulating properties, slaves, and resources. Their profit is theirs to keep, of course, but property must be returned. Unfortunate souls enslaved to the system must be freed.
But to these in power, these property and slaves—this economic and societal power they wield—this is what they’ve worked for. This is what they’ve “earned,” they might think. Here lies the wealth they have accumulated, and Jubilee is going to take it all away from them.
No, Jubilee did not bring joy to everyone. It only brought joy to those “unfortunate souls” for whom the intervening years had been fraught with trouble, turmoil, and difficulty. It was only joyful for those who became oppressed, brokenhearted, and captive; the prisoners, the mourners, those who lack, and those who are weary and weak.
These are the ones who benefit from Jubilee, and these are the ones that Isaiah sees as benefitting from this new work of God in the world.
This passage in Isaiah demonstrates what has sometimes been called “God’s special concern for the lowest and the weakest,” a concern that is taken up by—and indeed made central to—the ministry of Jesus the Christ.
When Jesus reads from the scroll in Luke 4:14-21, it is these words of Isaiah that he seeks out and reads. It is these words and attitudes that Jesus indicates are fulfilled in his life and ministry, and his entire existence in this world.
They explain the incarnation—Immanuel—God becoming flesh and living among us. And they reveal the salvation—the deliverance—that Jesus works to accomplish.
The fullness of this salvation is not a heavenly retirement condo, but the complete and utter transformation of the entire world—all that is, even what is here and now.
The fullness of this salvation is not limited to our own individual benefit, but the deliverance of all of creation.
To be Christian is to be like Jesus, and that involves conforming our own commitments and expectations to that of Christ. It involves the proclamation of the fullness of this salvation through our words and deeds, through our actions and our choices.
Mission & Salvation
I was reading a book this week. The author was talking about mission and God, and he referenced this exact text. He said (and rightly so, I believe) that Isaiah reveals here what salvation looks like.
But then he asked a question: If this is what salvation rightly looks like, what then is the proper form of mission that corresponds to God’s intentions of salvation?
We know how to do mission, if salvation means handing out get-out-of-hell-free cards. But what if God’s desires regarding salvation are the complete transformation of creation? How do we do mission then?
Drawing off this text in Isaiah, the author suggested two keys.
“First,” he says, “mission happens when [we] turn [our] attention to those who are named as the recipients of the good news: the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners, the mournful, the faint of spirit… In order to participate in God’s mission of restoration, the people of God are sent first to those who most need to hear that God will provide for them and will redeem their losses” (Bader-Saye, Feasting, 52).
“Second,” he continues, “mission happens when the nations of the world notice that the people of God live differently” (Bader-Saye, Feasting, 52). You see, twice in our reading we read that the nations will notice God’s blessing (vv.9, 11), which cannot help but remind us of Isaiah’s earlier words in 49:6: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
To be Christian is to live as a Jubilee community, standing as a sign of God’s blessing to those around us. “To be missional is to live as a people of good news, liberation, justice, and comfort in such a way that the world may take notice and be drawn to the ways of God…”
As that author stated: “So long as Christians live as divided people, known to the world as those who judge, fight, and exclude, the church will fail to be missional, no matter how much money it gives and how many missionaries it sends” (Bader-Saye, Feasting, 54).
Advent is a season of reflection—yes. But it is also a season of transformation. A time to look around and recognize that things are not as they ought to be. Remembering Christ’s first coming, we are prompted to continue the mission-work of Jesus. Anticipating Christ’s second coming, we realize there is much work to do in advocating the kind of justice that the Lord loves.
When we live into our calling, it will truly be “joy to the world.” We will “rejoice rejoice.” When we join with Christ in this task, we will experience liberation—the glorious release of joy that comes when we experience the deliverance of our God, transforming our lives in accordance with God’s desires for all of creation.
Then, we too will sing: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me.”
We too will shout: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God.”
For “as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”
That ongoing work of salvation by God—in our world and in our lives—is certainly something to celebrate.