This week in worship, we continue our Advent Series, “What God Does for Us at Christmas” with Pastor Barbara sharing three things from Isaiah she believes will give you comfort, bring you joy and give you hope this Advent season.

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God Brings Good News

Good Morning, my name is Reverend Barbara Burrill.  I am so thankful to be able to be here with you today.  It has been a year of pandemic, separation, loss, and conflict.  It really feels like it has been a “once in a generation” type of year. 

Many of us are home alone and not in the funny Kevin McAllister way.  According to the US Census, here in Brewster, more than 31% of the population are over 65.  I wonder how many of them are currently by themselves with no outside human contact. 

Last week Jill read the names of all those dear ones we have lost this year.  The bad news seems to bombard us from all directions.  COVID, elections, wars, etc. 

One of the things that I have missed most this year is the giving and receiving hugs…

Or even to hold the hand of a dear friend…

On this third Sunday of Advent, we are sharing about how God brings us Good News.  We have lost so much but then after reading our scripture for today, I started thinking about when was the last time that I received Good News. 

The last time I received good news was when I was ordained into ministry here at BBC in October.  How grateful I was that in this time of pandemic, I could complete my program and we as a church could gather (some in person and some online) to celebrate the good news of my ordination.  It was an exciting day for me and one that brings me joy.  I had been working toward that day for the past three years.  It is the start of a new chapter of my life and I am excited to see what God is planning for me.  I believe that getting good news is a joyous occasion!

What do you think of when you have had good news?

Right now, I want you to stop and think about the last time that you received good news.  What was your good news?  Maybe it was the birth of a child, a new job, or finally being able to have a haircut after lockdown.  I remember how great it felt when I had my first haircut after lockdown this spring. 

How does getting good news make you feel and what changes for you when you get good news?  And when we get good news, how do we respond to it? 

On the flip side of this we can also dwell on the negative and on all that we have lost this year.  Just recently my dog Oreo died…

And I still miss my fur baby very much but that is nothing compared to the many high school and college seniors, both this spring and this fall, who are grieving lost moments that they will never get back.  For parents and teachers, this year has not been easy.  They have been juggling kids, online learning, Zoom meetings, and work. 

The same can be said for our first responders, hospital staff, nurses, and doctors who with a new wave of COVID right now, are stretched to the limit and are real-life superheroes.  It is now nine months later. 

We are still not sitting together at church with friends, no fellowship hour, no summer breakfasts, and no Vacation Bible School.  Here is a picture of the last time I was preparing for our in-person Large Group at Sunday School with my kids back in March. I look at this board every time I walk by the Children’s Lobby and it reminds me of the loss we are all still experiencing this year. 

I miss my BBC kids and their laughter.  I miss seeing my families and hanging out on the playground after service.

This year like none other in our lifetime, we have been required to continually shift, to constantly change and to live our lives differently. 

When we are this exhausted, it can be hard to find time and space in our lives to stop and read the Bible, but I think we could all use some good news right now so let’s see what Isaiah had to say about bringing us good news. 

In Isaiah 61:1–4 we read,

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.  They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”

And continuing with verses 8–11,

“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing.  In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.  Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples.  All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.  I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.”

So what?  Those words were written so long ago they cannot really have any relevance for me today.  Can they? 

Well let me share the Good News with you.  It certainly does have relevance! 

When I was preparing for today, I took time to read the scripture through several times with an open heart to hear what message God wanted me to share today.  I find that when I make space to read scripture, God is just waiting there for me.  God wants me to share something with you. 

There are three things that I want to share that I believe will give you comfort, bring you joy and give you hope this Advent season.

The first thing we are told is that God brings us Good News.

The Lord anointed Isaiah to share the good news with those around him.  This gave Isaiah authority to speak for God.  The people that he was speaking to back then were the afflicted, the captives, the mourners, and those who felt hopeless. 

The people who were desperately in need of comfort, of joy and of hope.  Sound familiar? 

Does it sound like the world that many of us live in today? 

The world has not changed so much since Isaiah preached these words so long ago. 

God anointed Isaiah so that we would know that the words he spoke are from God for his people.  There is still injustice, pain, suffering, sadness, and despair in this life.  Isaiah took his time to be specific and paint a picture of what the Good News would look like.

Isaiah shares a series of “Insteads” for us to remember from verse 3. 

God will bestow a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the Oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. 

This reminded me of the great Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  An angel (Clarence) is sent on a mission to earth to remind George Bailey of how God has used him to make a difference in the lives of others and how God has blessed George.  Clarence and George then proceed to take a trip to visit all the “Insteads” in his life.

If you remember from the movie, when George was a kid, he and his younger brother Harry were fooling around on the pond in town during the winter.  However, the ice wasn’t all the way frozen and Harry falls through the ice, but George saves him.  Instead of drowning that day, Harry lives and goes on to have a successful life and become a hero during the war and saving the lives of many others.

What about Mr. Gower who owned the drug store where George worked delivering medicine to the sick?  Poor Mr. Gower was distraught at finding out about the death of his son.  As a result, he wasn’t paying attention when filling a prescription and accidentally substituted poison for medicine.  George sees this and explains to Mr. Gower what he did.  Mr. Gower gets angry at George for questioning him.  Eventually when Mr. Gower checks the medicine, he realizes that he did indeed accidentally put poison into the prescription. 

By George intervening, he saves the life of the person who would receive the medicine and the life of Mr. Gower.  Instead of Mr. Gower becoming a drunk and going to prison, he is redeemed by this one act that George did at his own peril.

Because of the Bailey building and loan, George was able to help many families like Mr. Martini find affordable, decent homes to live in and raise families.  Because of George these family’s lives were changed.  Instead of living in a shack and under the thumb of the horrible Mr. Potter at Potterville, they enjoyed rich, fruitful lives.  These families had hope.

Isaiah wants us to understand that the Good News is that one is coming who will give us each our own “Instead” moments. 

We are sinners and worthy of death but because God loves us, he brings us good news instead so that we might have everlasting life with God and not die in our sin. 

God is sending good news for the poor, the brokenhearted and He proclaims freedom for the captives. 

There will be justice for all who believe.  God made a covenant with Abraham and there is fulfillment in the good news Isaiah brings. 

We are all broken, sinful captives of this world but there is also comfort, hope and joy with the good news that is to come.

The second thing we are told is the coming of Jesus as the embodiment of the Good News.

How do we know this?  We know this in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Luke 4:18–19

In this chapter we see Jesus return to Nazareth, where he was brought up.  On the Sabbath day Jesus went to the synagogue as was expected.  Jesus then picks up the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. 

The book of Isaiah has 66 chapters and Jesus could have read any chapter, any verse but on that day, he read specifically from Isaiah 61:1–2.  He read,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  Jesus is publicly telling the world who he is, which is the Messiah, and of his ministry of preaching and healing to save God’s people.

How has Jesus been good news for you? 

In the Gospel we see Jesus give sight to the blind, good news to the poor.  In your own life, how has Jesus helped you to see life differently?  What has Jesus freed you from?  In my life, Jesus has redeemed me.  I was abused by a family friend at a very young age.  This sent me down a path that was dark and lonely but when I found Jesus and accepted Christ at the age of 15, I was redeemed and claimed by Jesus.  I have new life and I strive to be more like Jesus each day. 

There is an old hymn called “Jesus is all the world to me.”  Some of the words of this hymn are “Jesus is the world to me, my life, my joy, my all.” The hymn ends with the words, “Beautiful life with such a friend, beautiful life that has no end! Eternal life, eternal joy, He’s my friend.”

People heard Jesus gladly, why?  We all want his good news. 

Let’s look at the Gospel of John and seven of the “I am” statements that describe who Jesus is.

  • John 6:35, “I am the bread of life.”  Christ sustains our physical life.
  • John 8:12, “I am the light of the world.” Christ illuminates our path
  • John 10:7, “I am the door of the sheep.” Jesus guards his people like a shepherd
  • John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Death is not the final word for those in Christ.
  • John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus is committed to caring for his flock.
  • John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is the source of all truth and knowledge about God.
  • John 15:1, “I am the true vine.” By abiding in Christ, we enable his life to flow in and through us.  Then we cannot help but bear fruit that will honor the Father.

And if this is who Jesus is and who he is to us, then this brings me to my third point which is…

The third thing we are told is that WE are to share the Good News!

We need to be able to share with someone how the Good News impacts each of us.

In Mark 5 for example, there is a story of how Jesus healed someone and then told him to go and tell the Good News.  This man lived in a cemetery, terribly afflicted and demon-possessed and no one could help him.  Jesus comes to town and this man comes to Jesus.  The demon named Legion, knows who Jesus is and falls on his knees begging Jesus not to torture him.  Jesus then takes the demons out of the man and into a group of pigs.  The healed man then wants to follow Jesus, but He says no.  Instead, Jesus says to go back to his hometown and tell the people the good news—how he was healed.

When we have been blessed by the good news of Jesus, it is time to celebrate and don’t we all want to share when we have good news!  When we have heard and experienced the good news of Jesus and by proclaiming Christ as Savior, we are saying that we want to live our lives for Jesus. 

Remember when we used to go to the movies or to a sit-down restaurant?  If we saw an incredible movie or had a sublime meal, isn’t the first thing we wanted to do was tell others?  We couldn’t wait to get on social media and recommend it or to tell friends when we gathered together in person.  When we have great news, we can’t wait to tell others about it!  The Good News of Jesus is way better than a movie or a restaurant, so we need to be aware of opportunities to share the good news.

It is our hope that each of us who hears the Good News will grow deep roots in our faith and not have our faith trampled on or withered from lack of care.  When we become deep disciples then we become Christ’s hand and feet here on earth.  We embody Christ and become the messengers of today like Isaiah was when he first spoke the word of God.  When we become a disciple of Christ, we are on a lifetime mission. 

When we have experienced Good News, we want to shout the Good News from the rooftops!  For we were dead in our sins but now with the Good News of Jesus, we can be reborn.  We can become oaks of righteousness.  The brokenhearted will be healed.  Those of us bound by chains will be freed.  We will wear a crown of beauty and our lips will sing praises to God.  Jesus will comfort us; he will give us joy and we will have hope.  Christ is our hope.  In every age we are called to be rebuilders and restore the places that have been devastated. 

Because of the sinfulness of this world, there will be destruction like in verse 4 which said, God is merciful, but He is also just. 

In verse 8 we read, “For I, the Lord, love justice; hate robbery and iniquity.” 

Sometimes in life we are wronged, we are hurt, and we cry out for justice.  I have learned that although we may not see the justice we want in this life, there will be ultimate justice for all.

We are commanded to not only hear the good news but to share the Good News. 

My challenge for each of us this week is how will each of us be the hands and feet of Christ? 

During this Advent season, I pray that we are not too busy to really see those in need, help those in need, come alongside those who are mourning the loss of a loved one, who are brokenhearted, and who are desperately in need of the comfort, joy and hope that only Christ can bring.

If you are looking for something tangible to do, we have many folks right now who are homebound either by illness or trying to stay healthy by quarantining at home and they could use a word of comfort and hope.  They long to not be forgotten. 

Remember the names of the loved ones Jill shared?  We have lost so many this year.  Well, it is going to be an awfully hard first Christmas for them without their loved one.  Write a Christmas card, make a phone call or maybe join our Phone Chain to connect with a friendly voice. 

Each one of us long for connection, for someone to truly know us and to care.  If you are feeling alone or brokenhearted, if you are watching at home, then please let us know so that we might add you to the Phone Chain we started this spring and connect with you.  We will be re-launching our Phone Chain to those over 80 and anyone home alone and in need of connection.  If you would like to help make phone calls to connect with these folks during the upcoming winter months, please let us know.

May God Bless us all this week and help us to have ears to hear the Good News, a spirit willing to accept the Good News and a heart willing to share the Good News.  Despite our current circumstances, it really is a wonderful life.  One ready to be filled with the comfort, hope and joy of Christ.  Let us Pray.

Questions for Reflection

Read Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11.

  1. How are you doing right now?  Are you exhausted, brokenhearted, angry?
  2. Can you think of a time when you received Good News?  What was it and how did it make you feel?
  3. Pastor Barbara spoke about being aware of the “Instead” moments in our life.  Have you ever been blessed by an “Instead” or blessed someone else with an “Instead?  Share what those moments were.
  4. Read the “I am” statements mentioned in the book of John.  How are these statements Good News?  How do they change your perspective?
  5. Pastor Barbara challenged us to share the Good News and to BE the Good News for others.   How might you do that?
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