Advent Week 1: Hope
“All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception. Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void. The imagination is continually at work filling up all the fissures through which grace might pass.”
― Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace
Luke 4:17-19, NRSV
17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
In recent days tragedy has shaken our world, tearing through the fabric of our hearts, of our trust. These events have left many with feelings of fear, anger, anxiety, and vulnerability. In such an environment of instability and mistrust, what does it take to overcome a skepticism of spirit that can so easily imprison the soul?
Jesus is handed a scroll in the synagogue, and from that scroll Jesus reads the words from Isaiah assigned for our reflection today, those words we find in chapter 4 of Luke. Before this, however, Luke’s Jesus finds himself in a wilderness, deprived of everything and anything to protect and sustain him. Jesus’s vulnerability gives way to the impulses of self-preservation that can so often invade a desperate heart. These creep into the narrative of Luke, voiced as temptation, and are sentiments that have found their way into the politics and the fear-laden ideologies of Facebook posts millennia later:
If only you would do this: turn this stone to bread – worship greed, control the growth and production of resources for your own benefit – you will be fed forever.
If only you would do this: worship glory and authority, power and might (spend on defense, bolster your military prowess, preemptively invade and engage in war)… you can have it all.
If only you would do this: worship security, worship protection (Build that wall. Keep others out).
And yet, Jesus rebukes these inclinations, cleansing his life of temptation toward self-preservation in favor of one of our scripture’s most prominent themes, hospitality. Jesus opts to make room. Jesus clears space for grace.
Grace pours in, and mercy flows out. When Jesus reads the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue with fresh eyes and an infusion of grace, the words of the passage, and their intention are not limited or directed to those gathered in his presence, or to only a few in his own closed and safe circle, but Jesus suggests they apply rather to a boundless, expansive, ever-widening spiral of humanity. Grace risks in favor of love, in favor of compassion, in favor of inclusion. Grace becomes the essence of Jesus’s ministry – making room for all.
What is the beauty of being grace-filled? At least in part it is that we are a little less filled with things that distract us from loving, from caring, from healing, from connection; we are in fact filled with the one thing that in all circumstances suggests we are not alone, and that love knows no bounds. As we prepare to welcome the Christ child, let us prepare to welcome a Spirit-filled grace into our lives and hearts, a grace that promises to yield new life.
Prayer: In the wake of tragedy and pain, when we are desperately reaching for anything to fill our questioning, confused and rent spirits, may we allow space for grace to flood us. May grace open our eyes, heal our wounds, free us from the imprisonments of greed, bigotry, hatred, and pride. May we find mercy and love boundlessly flowing through ourselves into this world, that the good news of God’s love, of God’s favor, would be the awareness of all, binding us closer to the kin-dom.
Action: Risk for love. Do something kind for someone you don’t know or for someone you don’t particularly like.
Daryn Bunce Stylianopoulos is Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church, Needham in Massachusetts.