Creekside Church
Sermon of December 13, 2020

"Good News, Bad News"
Isaiah 61:1-2,10-11

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! It is the third Sunday of Advent, and we’re continuing to study texts from the book of Isaiah to see how they point us toward the birth -- and maybe even the ministry -- of Jesus. The text which John read for us is another Old Testament text which comes back prominently in the New Testament. Last week we talked about the prophet John the Baptist and his call to the Jewish people to “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the desert a highway for our God!” It was a call to righteousness, repentance and peace which came straight out of Isaiah 40. This week’s text from Isaiah 61 gets quoted prominently in Luke 4. This time it is quoted by Jesus himself: shortly after his baptism, Jesus returns to Galilee and his hometown of Nazareth. He goes to synagogue and is asked to read from the Isaiah scroll, which is open to this text, Isaiah 61.

It’s kind of a good news/bad news , especially in Isaiah -- Jesus leaves out part of verse 2 when he reads it. Let me review the first part for you from Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me that’s the intro; here’s the good news God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed yes, good to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; yes, all good to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor yes! And the day of vengeance of our God: uh oh, bad news to comfort all who mourn better. Jesus leaves off the part about the day of vengeance, which is interesting.

There is a whole genre of jokes and sayings about good news/bad news -- or bad news/good news scenarios. I’m sure you’ve heard some of them. There are even ones especially for pastors:

Good News: The Church Board accepted your pastoral job description the way you wrote it.
Bad News: They were so inspired they formed a search committee to find somebody capable of filling the position.

Good News: The Church Board approved your travel for Sabbath Rest
Bad News: They only have enough money for a one way ticket.

I liked some of the bad news/good news statements I found in my research, because they acknowledged that bad news and good news are often two sides of the same coin. For instance:

Bad news: There is no key to happiness
Good news: It isn’t locked.

Bad news: You cannot make people like, love, understand, validate, accept or be nice to you.
Good news: you don’t have to. And this one which seems particularly fitting for 2020:

The bad news is, nothing last forever.
The good news is, nothing lasts forever.

Gospel, of course literally means good news. This is exactly what the shepherds heard from the angel on the night of Jesus’ birth: I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is the Messiah. And that it: there’s a benediction of glory to god and peace on earth, but there’s no bad news, no The Messiah is here and boy are you in trouble, or The Messiah is here and you’re not invited to see Him. We don’t get a sense from Luke’s account that the shepherds had any hesitation about going to see the Messiah -- perhaps because the angel told them that he was a newborn baby lying in a feed trough: how intimidating could that be? But to those of us who have seen Jesus, listened to his teaching from the Bible, and tried to live them, we know that the good news of the gospel comes at a cost: it cost Jesus his life, and we too must reckon with God’s justice and God’s judgement. Matt Chandler said, “The good news of the gospel may not appeal to everyone, but the bad news still applies to everyone.” It’s easy to rejoice in the birth of a baby: much more difficult to take up our cross and follow Jesus, but those two things are both part of the gospel.

Isaiah 61 continues to present some good news and bad news in verses 5-9, but I want to focus on the joy which is expressed in verses 10 and 11, which begin “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God.” I want to express my thanks to members of the New Life Sunday School class for their reflections this week. I asked them to think about what kind light they are and they shared some insightful answers ranging from a lighthouse to Christmas lights -- people work best alone and those who do better in a group. But where the conversation was especially helpful to me was considering what kind of power source different lights need -- because they all need something. Fuel such as wax, oil or a battery, or something steady like being constantly plugged in, or something periodic, which needs to be re-charged. If you haven’t yet thought about what kind of light you are, or what kind of light you give, there’s still time to consider that on your own, or to share your thoughts with other people. I’m grateful for people who have been willing to share that with me.

Isaiah 61 gives us some clues about the source of our light: how the good news finally has the last word. I believe the light which is the most constant and most reliable is a light which is fueled by joy. People do things, including things in the church, for all kinds of motivations: self-interest, duty, guilt. Those may work for a while, but I don’t think they are nearly as reliable as a source of light as joy. Even people who are joyful still need to rest and re-charge, but if you can find the place where you feel like your gifts are needed and valued and visible, where -- to borrow Isaiah’s phrase -- your whole being exults in God; that is where you are going to give the most light. Giving light gives you more joy, and the circuit continues.

Here’s the paradox; and I think the metaphor of light will help us to understand it. We appreciate joy differently when we have experienced sorrow; our light is more visible at dusk than in blinding sunlight; we appreciate good news more when we have had bad news -- or when we have narrowly missed bad news. Consider for a moment how you feel when you wake up in the morning: tired? Achey? Grumpy? Now consider how you’d feel if you’d found out the night before that your test results were negative and you are cancer-free. How might you feel then? Relieved? Grateful? Joyful? Bad news can give us an entirely different perspective on good news. As another example, I sat down at the computer yesterday afternoon rather grudgingly to complete a few tasks and review this sermon in preparation for today: I experienced a self-inflicted computer glitch and thought we had lost all of our data, and I was contemplating having to spend the entire evening at the office reconstructing this sermon. Fortunately Joel was able to restore the computer to full health, and with a joyful heart I was able to review my sermon and get on with the rest of the day. I experienced a moment of salvation. Part of the reason that the birth of Jesus is such good news is that humanity is prone to plunge itself into darkness, and stumble around bumping into things and each other, because we unable to create our own light. Jesus Christ is the good news which we could not create and didn’t earn. Like the shepherds in the hills of Bethlehem, the best we can do is run to see what is going on, and be amazed and tell others what we have seen. Unless we accept the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we will never be able to bear the bad news of God’s judgement. It will cost us to accept Christ, but without him we will lose everything. We should be filled with joy not only for the grace we have found, but for the salvation of all that might have been lost.

So I’d like to close with some good news and bad news of the gospel for Christmas and beyond. Let’s let joy and good news have the last word:

“God’s going to come to earth!” “That’s good.”
“No, he’s going to come as a vulnerable baby.” “That’s bad.”

“No, that’s good. He’s going to grow up into a man who does great miracles.” “That’s good”
“No, that’s bad. Not everyone’s going to believe in him and he’s going to make some enemies.” “That’s bad.”

“No that’s good, because he’ll be doing God’s work and he’ll ride a donkey into Jerusalem while the people praise him.” “That’s good.”
“No, that’s bad. Powerful people will be threatened and he’s going to be arrested and put on trial before Pilate.” “That’s bad.”

“No, that’s good because Pilate won’t find any fault with him.” “That’s good.”
“No, that’s bad. Pilate will give in to political pressure and order Jesus to be crucified anyway.” “That’s bad.”

“No, that’s good. After he’s dead he’ll be in the tomb for three days and God will raise him back to life.” “That’s good.”
“Yes, that’s good.”

Amen.

 

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