Sunday 14th December – Rose Sunday (Advent 3)

I am excited about preaching today because the first few verses of that passage from Isaiah are probably amongst my favourite in the whole bible.  This is the perfect description of what I most want to do with my life and how I understand what God most wants to do in my life.  Bring good news to the poor, bind up the broken hearted and liberate those held captive.  These words have a poetry that cuts through all our good intentions and fluff and gets right to the heart of the matter.  Isaiah is not washing away the bad stuff in our lives but proclaiming God’s freedom into all that stuff.  As someone who is mo”re of a ‘doer’ than a ‘thinker’, possibly to perfectly balance the collar on the authorised of church, what I love about this passage is that it gives me something to do but at the same time it limits my doing.  We cannot fix people but we can be alongside them in their troubles. I want to begin this morning by reflecting on these first three sayings.

Good news to the poor

The poor are often in need of good news because so often if you are poor news is bad.  If you are poor good news often becomes bad news, the news that your child has been selected to be in the school play might usually be considered good news, but if you are poor this is not good news: it is news of more money to spend, tickets to buy, costumes to find and petrol or bus fares to get them back to school in time, more stress more money more difficulty.  Good news is hard to find.  By giving food to the food bank we are doing a little tiny bit to be good news to the financially poor in our society, this is the bit where we use these words to shape how we live, what we do. 

But being good news to the poor is not just about giving them stuff.  Bringing good news to the poor also means being good news, refusing to be patronising or condescending to see ourselves as equally human, all trying to do our best to get through life.  The things that bring the most good news to me, are words of friendship, news of a new baby, a successful operation, an opportunity to spend time with people I love but don’t see very often.  Good news can be as simple as a cup of tea with the right person.

Not only do these words shape how I want to live but they also shape how I understand what my God wants to do for me.  God comes to bring good news to me when I am poor, when I am poor in enthusiasm or poor in encouragement or poor in health or poor in spirit. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”  If in my poverty I daily turn to God then I know that he will hear me and come bringing good news.

Bind up the broken hearted

Probably my favourite phrase in the whole bible.  At times even the best and strongest of us has our heart broken and when that happens we need God to come and bind us back together again.  As a church community we need each other to hold one another together until our hearts are rebound.  What I love so much about this phrase it that it is so realistic.  We are not trying to mend broken hearts, we will leave that to the amazing surgeons at Southampton, but we are just holding them back together.  A broken heart is a good thing, it keeps us humble and contrite before God,

it stops us from becoming arrogant and heartless.  Once our hearts have been broken God can find more space to move, more freedom to act, but we can’t act with our hearts bleeding all over the place.  It would be very messy.  So God binds up our broken hearts, wraps them up tight and safe, so that we can get on with our lives, live everyday without being a mess everywhere.  As we relate to each other in church it should be as one broken heart speaking to another, hearts broken by God’s amazing sacrifice for us, hearts broken by the cruelty of the world and other people, hearts broken by illness or tragedy but most of all hearts bound up again by God’s love demonstrated through our love and care for each other.  When someone else has their heart broken we need to come in the strength of our own broken and bound up heart to be strong, to apply the bandage and begin to bind up each others hearts.

Proclaim liberty to the captives

Each one of us is captive to so much and so many things, we are captive to our work, to our family, to society and our community. We can even feel captive to God.  The opposing force of captivity is liberty, freedom.  Liberty is an interesting idea.  A great clubbing song from the 80’s that I love says

“We are free to do what we want any old time”

Is this what it means to set captives free to turn us all into anarchists, freedom seekers, deconstructionists who listen to no one and nothing.

This is not how I understand the liberty that comes from God.  The liberty that comes from God is the liberty of love, the liberty of knowing that no matter what holds us down and constricts us there is a God that is bigger than that.  Liberty from captivity is not liberty to do what we want when ever we want it but it is liberty to be ourselves and not not be controlled or manipulated by circumstances or situations.  Proclaiming liberty is about telling of God’s love that is stronger than anything we can find in this world, love that will not let us be tied down.  For some the knowledge of that love is hard to understand, drugs or alcohol or mental illness can force people into such deep captivity that there is no earthly way out, but there is a heavenly way out and we can proclaim our ultimate heavenly destination as a place where all captives will truly be free.

Now we come to our gospel. The story of the “voice calling in the wilderness”  Such a strong image, the voice crying out into the empty space declaring God’s word and God’s deliverance.  Each of us is called to be that word, that voice, and our wildernesses are here to be found in Pagham, in Aldwick in Bognor.  We are the voices crying out, the prophets that point to a better way.  We have hear about some of the things we can be saying, bringing good news, binding up and proclaiming liberty. 

At this point we need to move beyond the poetic and down into the practical and simple.  These words sound amazing and they stir my heart every single time I hear them or read them.  But how, how do I do it, how do I live each day as the voice crying out in the dessert.

Simply and practically we do it when we tell someone we will pray for them, when we remember to call someone to ask them how they are.  When we sit with someone and hold their hand in a dark place.  When we remind someone of brighter days to come.  When chose not to take offence and continue to love each other.  When we smile and say thank you to those we meet, the bus river, the shop keeper, our neighbours.  When we refuse to succumb the myth that we are all to busy to stop and chat.  This is what makes us good news, this is what enables us the bind up hearts and lets us proclaim liberty.

But above all the things that we can do for other people we must first allow God to do for us.  This morning we need to hear the voice of God in our own wilderness and it speak to us and choose to listen.  God is here in this place to bring us good news, to bind up our broken hearts and to set us free from the things that captivate us.

Now I am not very good at remembering things that I hear in Sunday sermons, or in fact any sermons, I sit there feeling very inspired then the rest of the service carries on and the children come rushing in and organising things happens and then when finally over lunch we sit down to talk about the sermon that gem or inspiration has gone, vanished in the business of life.  Well I don’t want that to happen so this morning I have got you a little reminder of the sermon.  This Sunday is traditionally know as Rose Sunday, and if the church had them we might have had the joy of seeing Mark resplendent in pink!  I think he would be able to carry that off better than me.  One Advent tradition that I really liked was one where every member of the congregation was given a rose to take home with them, to bring a bit of joy into the very dark days of Advent, a little anticipation of the joy that is coming at Christmas.

So I have a rose for each of you to take home and look at for a day or so and when you look at it this is what I want you to remember.

That Christmas is GOOD News because it is about Jesus coming to earth.

That Jesus will bind up our broken hearts and help us to make it through the season.

and that we are not held captive to the trappings of the season because we have been liberated.

For each of us this week I would like this rose to be the voice speaking God’s truth into each of our hearts this week.  That God loves us and holds us safe in the palm of his hand.