God Returning: Advent Reflections on Isaiah 61

Listen now to the substance of the sermon of this anointed one:

I YHWH love justice;

I hate thieving offerings! (61:8)

The last clause is not easy to translate, but the essence appears to be that all traditional offerings to YHWH, however well arranged and performed, however rich and sweet-smelling, are always in danger of being, in fact, theft. This idea, too, like the ancient call for justice itself, has a long history. Amos's stinging words float to mind:

I hate, I loathe your festivals;
I do not delight in your worship assemblies.
Though you offer me both burnt and grain offerings,
I will not accept them!
The offerings of perfectly fattened animals, I refuse to look at.
Remove from me the noise of your hymns;
I will not listen to the melodies of your harps!
Instead, let justice roll on like waters,
And righteousness like a perennial stream. (Amos 5:21-24)

Isaiah 1:12-17, some 300 years before Isaiah 61, has the same concern. At this season when our churches are festooned with stars and camels and bearded wise men, when special services dot our worshipping weeks, when the choir is tuned for praise, when the preacher gives special attention to the sermon, we must never forget that the one we await is the one we have already known. Above all, he is bringing the call to justice once again; we have heard that divine voice before, in Nathan and Elijah and Amos and I-Isaiah and Hosea and Micah and Jeremiah and II-Isaiah and now in III-Isaiah.

It is not more worship that this anointed one wants; it is justice, always justice and again he says, justice. Can we hear him, this time, at last, finally?

12/5/2011 5:00:00 AM
John Holbert
About John Holbert
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.