The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
For I the LORD love justice;
I hate robbery and wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring shall be known among the nations,
and their descendants in the midst of the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge them,
that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.
Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11
Isaiah reminds us that the coming of Christ is world-changing. Christ is proclaimed to be good news for the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners, those who grieve, and those who mourn. Millennia of pain and injustice are put on notice; this is the beginning of the end for the old order. God’s cosmic promise is to make all things right. God sees the evil, has given it strict limits, and we are coming up on its end.
This passage is a source of personal hope and encouragement. By December of every year, those of us in the north see too little daylight, the winter gets long, and the weight of the year’s toil and disappointments can feel overwhelming. God assures us that this world is not as good as it could be, not as good as it is supposed to be. All of those things that make life terrible really are terrible. There is real evil, and we don’t need to rationalize it, we don’t need to learn to live with it. God mourns with those who mourn and promises that the mourning will end. God’s anger is kindled against injustice, and so the captives will be set free. I take comfort knowing that Christmas is the announcement that we can hope for something better.
The final metaphor that Isaiah offers is that of soil in a garden. This is how the incarnation changes the world: through an underground, subtle shift in the direction of humanity. When God lives among his people, good things grow. In his soil, lives change, and hearts lean toward righteousness and praise. God has chosen to include our lives in the working out of his cosmic plan to bring justice and goodness to the whole world.
Dr. Steven McMullen is an associate professor of economics at Hope College.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.