December 13, 2020

December 13, 2020

December 13, 2020
Isaiah 61:1-4
Reverend Leah Burns
Lennon-Seney UMC 
Tennessee Valley District

Isaiah 61:1-4

61:1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring  good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
 61:2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
 61:3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
 61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastation's; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastation's of many generations.


I write this devotion in the days just after Thanksgiving Day. Each day brings heartache and sadness for people in my church congregation and for people in the surrounding community of East Knoxville. The coronavirus touches our church family and friends and community; and when it does, the COVID-19 disease outcomes too often are not good. On top of the coronavirus pandemic, there are other pandemics in the community…the pandemic of violence in our community, the pandemic of racism that has always been so oppressive, and there is housing and food insufficiency that have hit the community particularly hard. But we are faithful, and we are resilient, and we will get through this. Our enslaved ancestors got through this and so much more. We will get through this.

In the text, Isaiah offered a hopeful prophesy at a time when the people of the nation of Israel were in such great despair. Their leaders had been defeated because of their sinfulness. The people’s hope was lost. They were struggling to survive. Just when things look bleakest, when things look hopeless, when there seems to be no future or possibility, when things look and feel dead, Isaiah offers this beautiful picture of a hopeful future of God’s peaceable kingdom in their future. Here is another picture of a people in great despair looking forward to a hopeful future.

Five years ago, on the evening of June 17, 2015, a mass shooter took the lives of nine people1 at a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Emanuel AME is known as Mother Emanuel. Formed in 1816, it’s one of the oldest black churches in the South and survived being burned down for its role in an 1822 slave revolt.

This massacre at a historic black AME church deeply shook people already worn out from frequent gun violence and I suspect it heralded the return of violent white nationalism in America.

History teaches us that the city of Charleston was built on the backs of slaves, and racism was always an undertone, but it was a subject that was rarely talked about. So, little of this came to light until the tragedy of the Emanuel nine.

For some reason, many were struck by how quickly the congregation forgave the man who murdered their fellow parishioners. But it should not be a surprise. Those acts of grace and forgiveness and belief are deeply rooted in the history of the people of that church.

It took this tragedy at this historic church to show that racial injustice was real – that black people could be targeted even though they were doing nothing wrong.

Sadly, systemic disregard for black lives continues as evidenced in so many recent police killings such as George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and
Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta and more.

And yet! And yet…we hold on to the hope that one day things will be made right. Isaiah tells us right up front that God’s spirit will alight on a new leader, and righteousness and equity and justice for the poor and the meek will be restored. This is what Advent is about…not to look back at the way things were, but to look forward to a future where God’s promised intention for creation is not a dream or a fantasy, but a reality we all know. Where justice and righteousness will be established, and where the poor and the meek will not be despised or oppressed. This is the vision of Isaiah and the hope of Advent and the dream of God.


Join me in a closing prayer comprised of these selected words from “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: No ear may hear His coming/But in this world of sin,/Where meek souls will receive Him still,/ the dear Christ enters in./O holy Child of Bethlehem!/Descend to us, we pray;/Cast out our sin, and enter in,/Be born in us today.

1The shooter fired 70 rounds. The nine people killed include: Clementa C. Pinckney, 41; Cynthia Graham Hurd, 54; Susie J. Jackson, 87; DePayne Vontrease Middleton-Doctor, 49; Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders, 26; Daniel Lee Simmons Sr., 74; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, and Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson, 59. Three others survived: Felicia Sanders, her granddaughter, and Polly Sheppard.