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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Joy for the Brokenhearted

Robert Barron - Joy for the Brokenhearted

Robert Barron - Joy for the Brokenhearted

Peace be with you. Friends, the third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday. Now, "Gaudete" is a Latin imperative. It's a command. So the Church is telling us to be happy. And it gives us in our first reading, which is from the marvelous sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, the reasons why we should rejoice. From the time of the Church Fathers, Isaiah has been seen as a sort of Old Testament Gospel in miniature. There's so many features of Isaiah that anticipate the life of Christ and Gospel themes. Think, for example, of the suffering servant motif in Isaiah, which was used by the Church Fathers to interpret the cross, etc. But there are many more. We heard a few weeks ago about Cyrus being called "the anointed" of the Lord, so a messianic theme. Messianic themes, of course, run right through it. And today's passage from Isaiah 61 is a beautiful example of this messianic consciousness. Listen: "The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me".

Now, here's the interesting thing about that. In the Old Testament, you've got priests are anointed and kings are anointed, but prophets typically aren't anointed. Therefore, Isaiah is not talking about himself here, and the ancient Jewish tradition saw this. He's assuming, as it were, the voice of the anointed one par excellence, "the mashiach," the Messiah. And of course, it's Jesus himself who confirms this interpretation, because at the beginning of his public life, when he gets up in the synagogue and it's his prerogative to choose the Scripture text and to comment upon it, what does he choose but precisely this text that we're reading on Gaudete Sunday. That's why it's so sacred in our tradition. Jesus himself chooses it. And remember, famously says, "And this has been fulfilled in your hearing".

So he's claiming it as the program for his own messianic identity and work. It's describing, and by his own move here, it's describing who he is and what he does. Therefore, it's so important for us to attend to this passage. Again, keep in mind "Gaudete"!, rejoice! So the whole purpose of this is to give us reason to rejoice. So let me just look at some of the key features. "The spirit of the Lord…has anointed me". Okay. And "he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor". Now, "glad tidings", that's a great phrase, isn't it, in the Bible? "Euangelion" would be the Greek, the New Testament rendering of it. "Good news," "God spell," "Gospel". Glad tidings, precisely to whom? To the poor. Now, is Jesus, it's Isaiah here, but Jesus claiming it, talking about the economically poor? Yes, indeed. Think of all the time that Jesus spends reaching out to those who are economically and politically on the margins, how much his heart seems to break for them. But is he also talking about the spiritually poor? Indeed, we hear that in Matthew, don't we, in the Sermon on the Mount? "How blessed are the poor in spirit"?

What does that mean to be poor in spirit? You know, Pope Francis, the very beginning of his papacy talked about reaching out to those on the periphery. And he meant those on the kind of economic and political periphery, but then he specified: also those on the existential peripheries. And what he meant was those who are far from God, those who have lost the sense of meaning and purpose. What's Jesus' life all about? It's about announcing Good News, "Euangelion," God spell, Gospel, to the economically poor, yes, and to the existentially poor. What's the Good News? The Good News of God's journey all the way into their state of being. What do we hear in Paul but that Jesus let go of his own riches that by his poverty, we might become rich. Jesus, Son of God, incomparably rich in every way, but empties himself, enters into our poverty, both economic and spiritual, in order thereby to make us rich. That's why we rejoice. Because all of us who are poor to varying degrees have been addressed by this Good News.

Listen, now, as Isaiah goes on, Jesus claiming this passage: "[He's] anointed me…to heal the brokenhearted". Now, we speak of heartbreak as a kind of emotional suffering, and indeed it is that. But keep in mind "the heart" in the Bible names that deepest center of thought and feeling and action. It's closer probably to what we mean by the word "soul". It's the very center of a person. So think of all the various things we're engaged in: our relationships, our families, and our work, and our entertainment, and all that we do. But underneath all of that, at the ground of all of that, there's the heart, and the heart is meant to be in union with God, so that love of God informs all that we do, right?

So who are the brokenhearted? Well, fellow sinners, it's all of us; all of us whose hearts have been alienated from God, and who therefore experience, and I'll speak for, I know this, for every single person watching me right now, we all experience a deep sadness from this compromising of our hearts. What's Jesus come to do? To heal the brokenhearted. To heal, to save, to salve, right? "Salvator"; he's the Savior. That's from Latin "salus," meaning health. He's come, listen now, to heal us at the most fundamental level of our being, to restore us to friendship with God. And when we experience that, well then, "Gaudete"! Rejoice! That's one reason he's come. Third, he's been anointed "to proclaim liberty to… captives and release to…prisoners". Ah, it's one of the great metaphors for sin in the Bible, isn't it? Captivity. To be imprisoned. You see why. The soul is meant to fly. That's why the imagery of the angels with wings is so important.

Don't literalize that, but it means the flight of the spirit outward and upward. The soul is meant to reach out to the wider world in relationship in love. To reach out to the transcendent, to reach out finally to God. It's meant to fly. What does sin do? Remember Augustine calls it being "curvatus in se". It means caved in on myself. I'm not seeking relationship, I'm not seeking friendship with God. I'm so preoccupied with my own little concerns that I've caved in around myself, and I've locked myself thereby into a prison. Don't you love it in the Psalm, this comes up, oh about every third week in the office that I pray as a priest, "Oh Lord, deliver me from this prison. Take me out of this prison".

Well, that's what he's talking аbout: not a literal prison, but this spiritual prison that all of us sinners are in. Or think of, again, many people listening to me right now, I know, I know are caught in an addictive pattern. Whether you're addicted to food or drink or alcohol or pornography or sex or whatever it is, when you're caught in that addictive pattern, you're in prison. You can't break out. What has the Messiah come to do but to liberate us from all these forms of self-imposed imprisonment. How's he do it? By moving right into the place of our imprisonment. Right? On the cross Christ becomes sin so as to bring the divine mercy and forgiveness and liberation even into those darkest places. So again, everyone listening to me right now, because all of us sinners are to varying degrees in prison and addicted, because all sin is a type of addiction, move into this space. Lord, I know I'm in prison, and so I'm awaiting the Good News that you've come to liberate me. And therefore, "Gaudete"! Rejoice.

And then this one: I've been anointed "to announce a year of favor from the LORD". That's beautiful. Any first-century Jew hearing this, or ancient Jew now hearing from Isaiah, would understand. In the book of Leviticus you find the proclamation of the Jubilee year. The Jubilee year, once every fifty years, was a time when, as a great grace, slaves were manumitted, debts were forgiven. Jubilee! That's why that word to us is still such a joyful word. It's a time of release from these terrible burdens. What's sin? Sin is a type of enslavement. I'm enslaved to my own pride, and my own envy, my own anger, my own avarice, you know, pick your poison, whatever your sin is. It's like an enslavement. And then that beautiful image: it's like being in debt. You know, when you're in debt, and you're trying to get out of it, but the more you try, the deeper in debt you become. It just piles up in the course of your life, and maybe you even communicate that debt to your children. That's why it's a great metaphor for the power of sin. I've been anointed, the Messiah says, "to announce a year of favor from the LORD". Jubilee.

What does Jesus represent? The first Christians felt this in their bones. His cross and Resurrection felt to them like a completely unmerited forgiveness of their sins and a relief from their debt, a release from their enslavement, a liberation. So everyone now listening to me: you know, we all feel to varying degrees we're enslaved, we're under the burden of debt. Christ comes to offer a year of Jubilee. And then just a last image. How's he make all this happen? Here's Isaiah again: by clothing the Messiah in "a robe of salvation" and wrapping him "in a mantle of justice". So the Messiah, now, he's got this robe on of salvation, again, that means healing. He's got a mantle around him of justice. What's justice? Setting things right. But now, here's what you're meant to see. Does the mashiach need this? Well, no; he doesn't stand in need of healing or liberation. He doesn't stand in need of rectification of something unjust. Therefore, he will wrap us in these things. What's he come to do?

And again, go back to Paul. He who was rich by his poverty made us rich. He came down so as to lift us up. So the mashiach who's wrapped in this beautiful robe of salvation, the mantle of justice, is now going to wrap us in them so that we might benefit from what he has. "Like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem," Isaiah says. And there's that image: Christ the Bridegroom, the Church the Bride. The bride, once married, now takes on the bridegroom's name, and privilege, and, now, maybe it sounds a little bit sexist in our terms now, but certainly the ancient world, a bride would have taken on all of these qualities from the bridegroom. He wraps her up in his prerogatives, in his virtue. That's what it feels like, everybody, to be saved. So, as a way of preparing for Christmas, go through this passage from Isaiah. Go step by step. Move into the psychological and spiritual space of those who are poor, those who are brokenhearted, those who are captive, those who are imprisoned, those who are under a burden of debt. And then rejoice, because the Messiah has come to wrap you in a mantle of justice and in a great robe of salvation. And God bless you.
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