The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations…
8 “For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations. -Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
I'm not sure I like at all what Okoro says tonight.
I don't like it at all.
In the season of Advent, we are invited to lay bare our deepest pains, doubts and desires before God. We see people in the Advent story who prayed for years over their own deepest personal aches and see them come to fruition. Like most people, I want that same fruit. I don't want the ache.
Nor do I particularly like Okoro's insight that God's answer to Elizabeth and Zechariah's prayers was not strictly for their enrichment or faith. It was for the greater reconciliation and love and healing of the whole world that these things came to pass. God, while in love with Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, and John, saw to bring to healing to the entire created world — not just four people.
The individualist in me squirms at this.
The popular evangalical teaching I was so often given that "He thought of me… above all" (the shmaltzy Michael W. Smith song?) steps back at this.
The introvert unwilling to share her life balks at this.
Why? Why can't I have what I long for just for me? Why?!
Why must the greater good be involved? Why must the healing of the nations even be considered? Why must my gifts, should they ever be given, be shared after I've waited so long for them? Why can't I be left in peace to enjoy the answers to my prayers?
"Our personal longings, for which we beseech God and wait on God's answer, are valid; but we remind ourselves that God's self-revelation and promised fulfillment is always intended for the healing and reconciliation in the larger community. We must ask ourselves how we can hold vigil for the groaning of humanity that is larger and more expansive than our own." (Okoro, p.75).
I was not raised in Mary or Elizabeth's world — a world of communal sharing. Wells were shared, toilets were shared, animals were shared, shelter was shared. While we see beautiful reliefs of God calling these ordinary people into silence and barren places with Her alone, by and large we are brought into a story that reflects God's larger Story: community.
I live in the developed world of the 21rst century — a world of individual consumption. My bedroom is my own, my basement suite is my own, my car is my own (after I paid the bank), my job is my own, my education is my own, my family is my own, my personal space is my own. To demand I share any of these things is a high call indeed. Perhaps it's innate human selfishness to hold onto material things; perhaps it was the way I, and most of us, were raised. We don't know anything different. Perhaps it's a fear of people coming far too close, and taking what we think we need to thrive.
After all, my happiness is most important in my own life.
God's Story reflected in the lives of Zechariah, Elizabeth, John, and Mary is completely forgeign to me, if I'm honest. I want a child. I want a partner. I want other things or people that would certainly enrich my life. The darkness that has come without them is strong indeed. If ever these things were fufilled, why should I be demanded I give them back? Why should I share?
God's Story is counter-intuitive to me. Releasing what I want the most for the difficult desire of seeing healing come to all people is like pulling teeth without laughing gas. Trust me, Henri, no one is laughing tonight.
But… what would come if, one by one, I released my fingers gripped around these powerful and understandable desires? What if I held them rather gently in my palm and lifted them upwards? What would happen then, Henri?
No, I didn't like Okoro's words tonight. I am waiting for many, many things — some of which will never happen. That makes me sad. Yet have I ever thought, or ever been willing, to see the fulfillment of my life in the grander scheme of all of us together?
Until tomorrow, Henri,