Brief synopsis of the readings: Still in Isaiah, the prophet speaks of receiving the Spirit of the Lord. He has been anointed to bring good news to the poor and bind up broken hearts. He will also proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to those in prison. Isaiah rejoiced that he was clothed in salvation and integrity. In John’s Gospel we read again about John the Baptist. He tells those gathered that he is not the anointed one or Elijah or the Prophet. He refers to the one who will come after him.
Of all the passages we read in Advent, this passage from Isaiah is perhaps my favorite and it’s taken on increased meaning today in 2020.
Much like last week we hear words of consolation from Isaiah and in the Gospel we hear about John the Baptist. But today Isaiah goes into more detail. God has chosen him (as always, foreshadowing Jesus) to bring good news to the poor and bind the hearts that are broken. I’d like to spend some time on the broken hearted.
We are called to love and be loved, and this road inevitably leads at times to having our heart broken. And while those things that break our hearts changes with each stage of life, they are no less serious. I have a friend whose son is about 7; whenever his screen time is limited he announces that his life is terrible. As adults we laugh at this because as adults we’d love nothing more than to live a life where our greatest burden is limited screen time.
But for him, well, it is big. Just because he doesn’t worry about mortgage payments and the health of his children doesn’t mean his life doesn’t have challenges. It’s a good lesson remember for all of us: we shouldn’t evaluate another person’s grief against our own experience.
And if we shouldn’t judge another person’s heartbreak nor should we attempt to avoid heartbreak in our own lives. Hearts that can’t be broken are not strong hearts, they are hard hearts. Hearts become hard when we decide, through pain, bad experience, or cynicism, that we just don’t want to be hurt anymore. Baby boomers well remember Simon and Garfunkel’s I Am a Rock with the lyrics:
Don’t talk of love
But I’ve heard the word before
It’s sleeping in my memory
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died
If I never loved I never would have cried
He’s technically right, but a hard heart leads not only to loneliness but also a lack of compassion and concern for others. It’s what causes policies to divide and cage refugees or decide that poverty finds its root in laziness. Hard hearts allow us to care only for ourselves and live in the belief that our world prospers when everyone pursues his or her self interest.
As a Christian this idea should send us chills.
A strong heart, on the other hand, is quite capable of being broken. When we see images of political oppression around the world or homelessness in our own backyard it should break our hearts. When we see grudges and enmity that span generations and split families it should break our hearts.
My faith tells me that a strong heart mends itself by first mending the hearts of others. It’s not easy but I hope none of us chose Christianity hoping for an easy path.
My faith also tells me that mending broken hearts lies at the center of Advent for us. God knows, particularly, this year, that it’s easy to fall into despair. I live in California and for the second time this year many of our businesses have had to shut down because of limited hospital beds and the fear of not being able to care for the sick and dying.
Around the world we recognize that people are dying COVID apart from their families and loved ones, surrounded only by strangers wearing masks, gowns, and gloves. Around the world we recognize that large groups of people are making poor decisions that put the rest of us at risk. Around the world we continue to see that even a global pandemic does not stop or even slow human trafficking the abuse of immigrants.
But we are a people of hope. We recognize that we can support science, exercise our right to vote, and give to organizations that advance the Kingdom. And finally we can pray. Sometimes I think we sell short the power of prayer but I suggest that prayer strengthens our hearts.
Prayer reminds us that we are not alone in this. Our prayers are joined with others to remind us of the power we hold when we join together. Prayer also reminds us that we are created and redeemed by a God who has pledged to care for all of us. When someone wishes for something unlikely we sometimes joke: “From your lips to God’s ears” but there is truth in that.
Advent is a time of waiting. But people who have all that they need don’t wait because they have nothing to wait for. We are waiting for some many things: peace, justice, love, healing. Let us continue to wait and pray.