December 11, 2011
John 1: 6-28
(Watch this video, then read the Torah portion for this week …)
Man, that’s a great song.
So we have a number of promises in the Torah portion for this week. The Lord YHWH has anointed the prophet Isaiah:
- to bring good news to the oppressed,
- to bind up the brokenhearted,
- to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
- to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; [and]
- to comfort all who mourn (Isaiah 61:1-2)
Let’s take a closer look at a few of these promises, shall we?
1. Good News to the Oppressed
As we have pointed out previously, the word “Gospel” means “Good News”. However, if it’s not Good News to the Oppressed, then it’s not Good News. Good News to the Oppressed means that the needs of the Oppressed will be provided for.
It means that their oppression will cease. It means that they will have freedom of expression and assembly. It means they will have meaningful representation in their leaders’ decisions. It means they will have meaningful economic opportunities. It means that their most basic material needs (food, clean water, shelter and education) will be met. It means that these basic things will not be sold to the highest bidders only, leaving the other 99% with nothing but TV, football and alcohol to make them happy. As my dear friend Brother Elijah has pointed out, the keys to the US Constitution are the first three words: We the People. If it’s not Good News for the People, then what is it good for?
2. Binding Up the Brokenhearted
According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2007, suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. Within this age range, five to six times as many males as females commit suicide. (While more women attempt to commit suicide than men, men succeed far more often due to more lethal means.) Ninety percent of the people who die by suicide have depression or substance abuse issues – or a combination of these (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-the-us-statistics-and-prevention/index.shtml#CDC-Web-Tool). Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual youth have a significantly greater rate of suicide attempt than heterosexual youth (http://www.sprc.org/library/SPRC_LGBT_Youth.pdf). To bind up the brokenhearted, resources have to be made available so that people at risk for suicide can obtain effective, affordable counseling. People with substance abuse issues need to be provided accessible recovery treatment. People with clinical depression need to be able to afford their medication. Teens and young adults, young men, and Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual youth should be proactively outreached. IF YOU ARE READING THIS AND ARE HAVING SUICIDAL THOUGHTS, CALL the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK or CALL 911. Good News means that you are not alone.
3. Liberty for the Captives and Release for the Prisoners
At the end of 1999, 6.3 million people, or more than 3 percent of all U.S. adult residents, were under the control of the criminal justice system. More than one-fourth of all inmates are in prison or jail because of arrests related to using, possessing, or trafficking drugs. Between 1980 and 1996, the prison population tripled, in large part because of convictions associated with drugs, due to the “War on Drugs”. Drug offenders constituted 55% of federal prison inmates in 2001 (http://www.cdc.gov/idu/facts/druguse.htm). While the Lord YHWH demands justice for wrongs against others, the prison population could be vastly reduced – and lives saved from ruin and disenfranchisement – if drug users were systematically diverted from prison into treatment. One study of the New York State prison population estimated that $217 million could be saved if the Rockefeller-era drug laws were repealed and treatment substituted for imprisonment (http://www.prisonpolicy.org/scans/Potential_Savings_2007.pdf). Good News for prisoners would mean that prison would be used to reform violent offenders, not treated as a major economic growth sector (see http://www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/fy2012_congressional_budget_factsheet.pdf).
So what does all this political stuff have to do with preparing for Christmas?? “I’m busting my butt trying to find a PlayStation for my kid and cooking for my in-laws, and you’re talking about suicide and prisons??”
When we “announce the year of the Lord’s favor,” we are specifically announcing Good News to those for whom society has the least regard: the poor, the addicted, the imprisoned, and the brokenhearted. When we are preparing for the coming of Christ, we are preparing for Christ’s coming … to “the least of these”. When we prepare for the coming of Christ, we’re not preparing for the coming of an adorable, rosy-cheeked baby in a manger long ago and far away. We’re preparing for the spirit of Christ the Liberator – who liberates the oppressed, heals the addicted and frees the prisoners – to enter our hearts, right here, right now. That is how we will “comfort those who mourn” – when we take away the situations and institutions that bring cause for mourning. No, it does not happen overnight. But the will to do it has to begin somewhere. Hope has to be born for justice to be done. And Christmas tells us that hope is often born in the lowliest and least likely of places … Let us go to those places and make way for the Savior who liberates us all.