A sermon by The Right Rev’d Chris McLeod, Dean

Isaiah 51: 9 – 15

The ransomed of the Lord shall return!

Has God gone to sleep; we often wonder? Have we been abandoned? Does God even care? These thoughts are not just ours, but the people of Judah during the time of Isaiah were wondering the same thing. Isaiah chapters 40 – 66 are generally believed to come to us from the time of Cyrus of Persia (539 B.C.E), and the author(s) are looking forward to the time of restoration and return after deportation to Babylon. The people of the time, however, needed convincing. Isaiah meets them with a word of promise – ‘the oppressed shall be released …’ Why? Because ‘I am the Lord your God … and ‘you are my people’ (Isa 51: 15 – 16).

The Advent theme of waiting is an important one. Salvation has come to us, but we wait for its completion. Patience is needed. We live by faith because God is who God promises to be, and we are who God says we are. We wait in joyful expectation for ‘the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing … and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’ (Isa 51: 11). These are wonderful words of promise and hope, and they are ours!

  1. Waiting

Waiting is not something most of us find particularly easy. We tend to want answers now; well at least I certainly do. If we wait too long, we think that whatever we are waiting for has passed us by. Another response is to take things totally into our own hands. I can’t wait any longer. I need to do something about it. The promise return of Christ and the establishment of God’s Kingdom in all its fullness makes us impatient. How long do we wait? We begin to disbelieve God and his promises. I have had enough, we might say, it is all nonsense can be one response or another, we will build our own Kingdom here on earth.

The utopic visions of either Communism or Capitalism have failed, as far as I can see, to establish anything like God’s Kingdom here on earth. They promise much but fail to deliver in the end. The Kingdom of God shaped by justice has not been realized in any of the institutions established by human beings. There have been moments of seeing hints of it, but human beings are too sinful to really be able to get near what God has in store for the world. So, what are we to do?

2. Waiting by doing God’s will

In this morning’s Gospel reading, those who came to John the Baptist asked the important question ‘what are we to do’. Canon Jenny preached so well on this text this morning. The question stands before us continually in the light of the readings such as we have tonight. What are we to do while we wait? If doing nothing is not really an option and doing too much seems to lead us to error. What are we to do?

I think the answer is living in the Kingdom of God as if the Kingdom is already with us. We shape our own lives by the justice we know is so much part of God’s promise. This was at the heart of Jesus’ teaching such as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. It is about caring about our world and the people who occupy it. The Biblical vision that we find in Isaiah, of a restored people in a restored world, is at the heart of the Kingdom message of Jesus. As we wait for God to fully establish his reign, we know our attempts are inadequate, but we do them anyway as signs that the Kingdom of God has come among us. We have a vision, a vision built on promise, and we work towards it.

3. What to do

So often in sermon we hear great ideas, but the question we often have is ‘so what do I do about it’. Christmas provides the perfect opportunity to have a go at answering that question. Without neglecting our families and ourselves, we can think about those whose Christmas will be about struggle: the poor, the lonely, those who have lost jobs, those who have lost loved ones, and so on. The question for myself, what can I do to bring something of promise into the lives of others. How can I help the oppressed go free? How can I help them not lack bread?  What can I do to bring a taste of God’s Kingdom to others? How can I do my part in helping the oppressed go free?

‘The oppressed shall be released …’ Why? Because ‘I am the Lord your God … and ‘you are my people’ (Isa 51: 15 – 16). How do I live that? How do you live that?