A few older couples used to get together to talk about life and to have a good time. One day one of the men, Harry, started talking about this fantastic restaurant he went to the other night with his wife. “Really?”, the other of the men said, “What’s it called?” After thinking for a few seconds Harry said, “What are those good smelling flowers called again?” “Do you mean a rose?” the first man questioned. “Yes, that’s it,” he exclaimed. Looking over at his wife he said, “Rose, what’s that restaurant we went to the other night?”
So far, I still have a pretty good memory—I think—except for names. I’ve always had a hard time with them, but what I’m miserable about is timeframes. I know something happened, but I have a terrible time remembering when it happened.
The brain is a complicated thing and memory is even more illusive in understanding, but what scientist have come to learn is that when we remember something, we’re not always remembering the original event, but instead are remembering the last time we remembered it, which means, we can drop a few details.
Neuroscientist Donna Bridge writes, “A memory is not simply an image produced by time-traveling back to the original event—it can be an image that is somewhat distorted because of the prior times you remembered it. Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval.” (Source)
Put all that together: I remember talking about this in the past, but being bad with timeframes, I don’t remember if I have already told you. What are you going to do? Get to the point, Father John.
Today, in our reading from Isaiah, we hear those very familiar words. They are familiar, not because of reading them in Isaiah, but because they are the words that Jesus spoke at the beginning of his ministry.
“And Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”
Because this is where we remember these verses from, then we don’t really remember all that Isaiah actually said. You see, after the last statement that Jesus reads, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” there’s actually a comma, not a period. There’s more to it. Isaiah goes on, where Jesus did not:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God.”
There’s a semicolon after that, but why would Jesus end with, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” and not add the bit about vengeance? Was Jesus simply proof-texting? Picking the bits he liked and ignoring the rest? Or, was there even some deeper meaning behind stopping there? Inquiring minds want to know, but you already know the answer. Jesus was making a point.
During the Season of Advent, we spend the first two Sundays looking ahead to Jesus second coming and the last two are focused on his first coming. Jesus, by leaving off “the day of vengeance of our God” was basically doing the same thing. By ending with “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” Jesus was declaring the work of his current mission. We see this in John 3:17—“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” and again in John 12:47—“If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” With our understanding of what Isaiah said and how Jesus used it, Jesus very well could have been saying, “God did not send his Son into the world this time to condemn” and “I did not come this time to judge.” All of which points us to the two focuses of Advent, Jesus first coming was the time of of repentance and forgiveness and his second coming will be “The day of vengeance.”
However, what Jesus did not say, was the backdrop to everything else that he did, which was a call to faith and discipleship. As St. Paul taught us in his second letter to the Corinthians: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation,” for there is a day coming when… well, when it will be too late.
Jesus was not proof-texting when he stopped at “the year of the Lord’s favor,” but in a sense, we are when we remember that passage of scripture. We see something so many times in a certain way that we no longer remember it or understand it in its proper context.
I just recently moved and after I got everything out of the old place, I went in and gave it a good cleaning. Everything was out and everything was clean. Someone stops by for a visit afterwards and walks through with me. They took a good look around and then asked me if I planned on leaving a certain picture hanging on the wall, but there were no pictures on the wall. Yet they pointed to it and as if by casting some spell from Harry Potter, there it was, hanging right next to the front door. I had seen that picture so many times in the exact same place, that I literally no longer saw it or remembered it. Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s intentionally selective, while at other times… memories just “drop off.”
Our immortal souls cannot afford to forget that what we celebrate at Christmas—the year of the Lord’s favor—is only part one of two. Part two, we declare it every week: we believe that “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” He will come again to judge. Don’t get so caught up in part one that you no longer remember or see part two. They are both of equal importance.
Let us pray: Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever faithful to your promises and ever close to your Church: the earth rejoices in hope of the Savior’s coming and looks forward with longing to his return. Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling the joy and hope which his presence will bestow, for he is Lord for ever and ever. Amen.