For several weeks, we have been focused on justice for the vulnerable. The scandal at Penn State University around accusations of the abuse of boys by a coach has sparked outrage at the thought of youth being harmed and exploited.
A common theme, besides anger, is bewilderment that such atrocities, if the accusations are true, have been committed while supposedly decent and reputable people were aware of it all. A deep sense of injustice has been expressed.
Today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah talks about what the Messiah, the savior of Israel, will bring: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.”
While we may be preoccupied with shopping and socializing this holiday season, and preparing our homes for entertaining and planning celebrations and vacations, today’s reading reminds us that Advent is not just about Jesus’ birthday and the exchange of gifts. It is also about justice.
Today’s reading reminds us that the Savior comes to save us from our sins and to right the wrongs that have been committed against the weakest members of our communities. Preparing for the arrival of this savior into our lives and communities, again and again and again as we must, means preparing to participate in reversing the injustices around us.
Preparing for the arrival of this savior into our lives and communities, again and again and again as we must, means preparing to participate in reversing the injustices around us.
Where are the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives and the prisoners? They are all around us, of course. They are in our schools, our churches, our neighborhoods. They are broken by neglect or abuse, captives of self-destructive behavior, and prisoners of economic forces outside of their control.
When my children were in Cub Scouts, we did a “love tree” exercise, where we were given a wish list of gifts for a family in transitional housing in our community. Each scout and his parents contribute a gift that the family had requested for their children — a pair of shoes, a winter coat, a toy, a book, etc.
When it came time to distribute the gifts, I was asked to take our troop’s offerings to the housing center, expecting just to drop it off. When I arrived, the director asked us to come in and join the family as they opened their gifts. As they opened their gifts and expressed their thanks, I have to admit I was ashamed — ashamed that I had spent so much more money on my own children, who need so little, compared to what I had contributed to these children, who need so much. I resolved to do that no longer.
“I rejoice heartily in the Lord,” Isaiah continues. “In my God is the joy of my soul; for he has cloaked me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.”
Participating in God’s justice will bring us joy like we have never known. Yes, the savior comes to save us from our sins, but also to save others from our collective sins. To celebrate Advent and Christmas fully, perhaps our first priority ought to be compassion for the victims of injustice in our communities more than it is giving fine gifts to one another.
Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected].