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The Opening Volley

December 7, 2020

The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

In his book, The Day the Revolution Began, N. T. Wright asserts “The resurrection was the first visible sign that the revolution was under way.”[1]  But the revolution actually began three years earlier, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when Jesus read from Isaiah in his home synagogue.  He read: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor “ (Luke 4:18-19; quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 a).[2]  

Jesus fired the opening volley of the revolution when he “. . . rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down” beginning his homily with the first salvo: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).  The congregants gasped, because they understood what he was saying–that he was the Messiah.  The people were furious!  When he left the synagogue, they followed him, intending to throw him off a cliff.  But Jesus walked through the crowd with authority and never returned to Nazareth.  Jesus is often depicted as a milquetoast, namby-pamby, “soft” philosopher type.  He was anything but.  While his intellect was unparalleled, he was also a physically strong man.  He was a carpenter by trade—more a construction worker-type than a maker of furniture–who didn’t shy away from controversy.  He started the revolution when he fired the opening round in that synagogue.  

Paul tells us that “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).  Jesus keeps his promises.  While he walked the earth, he was a man of his word.   Jesus was no victim in his crucifixion.  He knew it was coming, and he fired the first shot to start moving the events toward the crucifixion.  He was in control of the events.  He made them happen. He fired the first shot in Nazareth and his aim and timing were perfect.  He hit his intended target and the revolution started.  He is a God of his Word. 

In the end, even those who crucified him understood who he was: “Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross.  It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written’” (John 19: 19-22, emphasis added).  Pilate understood that the Jewish leaders thought the sign would mislead the people into believing that he was the Messiah, but he refused to change the sign.  The sign was written in three languages—Aramaic for the resident Jews, Latin for the Romans, and Greek for foreign visitors.  Mark’s gospel records that after Jesus breathed his last breath, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God’” (Mark 15: 38).  Many of those who had opposed him finally recognized him for who he was—the Son of God.

Never doubt God’s power.  Jesus, the son of a carpenter, who turned the world upside down when he started the revolution that day in Nazareth was the Messiah, the Son of God, who came to save you and me.  Greater than all the prophets before him and all of the saints and revolutionaries after him who upended the religious establishment of their day, Jesus did not leave us alone and adrift.  He left his Spirit with us.  He set an example for us.   He taught us how to empty ourselves of our ego[3] so that we can fill our souls with his Spirit.  Jesus did not fire the opening volley of the revolution for naught.  He started the revolution to free us from our sin.  And he left his Spirit with us to guide us.

 As you make your way through this Advent season, empty yourself of your ego to make room for the Spirit.  Empty yourself of your concern about what others think of you.  Empty yourself of thoughts of what you need to buy to keep up with your neighbors.  Empty yourself of the accolades and promotions you hope to receive.  Empty yourself of thoughts of the money you want to add to your coffers.  Empty yourself of thoughts of the grand gifts you plan to place under the tree– and fill yourself with his Spirit.  Being filled with the Spirit is the best gift you will ever receive.

The Holy Spirit does not come empty-handed.  He brings gifts of wisdom, understanding, prudence, courage, knowledge, reverence, and awe of the Lord.  Open the door of your heart to the Holy Spirit, the bearer of gifts of inestimable value–as well as of peace, hope, joy, and love.  Merry Advent! 

Prayer:  Jesus, we realize that even in COVID lockdown we have so many things that we want to do to prepare for Christmas—send cards; decorate the house; put up lights; prepare special foods, and bake in addition to buying, wrapping, and mailing gifts.  But are we doing your will in getting caught up in the frenzy of the holiday?  Help us to concentrate on the revolutionary good news of your birth.  You came to fill the world with light and hope. Quiet our minds and hearts in the days before Christmas so that our joy spills into everything that we say and do.  Amen 

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began (2016) HarperOne, p. 4).

[2] The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday in Advent are Isaiah 61: 1-4; 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24; John 1: 6-8; 19-28.  The gospel scriptures upon which this blog is based vary a bit from the assigned lectionary in order to connect it to the Isaiah reading. Another version of this blog was published in December 2017.

[3] Someone said that “ego” is an acronym for Edging God Out.

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