Weekly Seeds: Vindication
Sunday, December 31, 2023
First Sunday after Christmas | Year B
Vindicating God, let us rejoice in you and bring glory to your name. Amen.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
62 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
All readings for this Sunday:
Isaiah 61:10-62:3 • Psalm 148 • Galatians 4:4-7 • Luke 2:22-40
What disappointments do you hold?
How have you been doubted?
Does your community (however you define it) carry injustices and despair that need restoration?
What is vindication? How would you recognize it?
How do you pursue vindication or acknowledge it when it occurs?
By Cheryl A. Lindsay
Have you ever felt the need to prove yourself? Have you ever known that something was possible for you when everyone else doubted you, the possibility, or both? Have you ever known something to be true that others perceived in an entirely different way? Have you ever struggled to hold on to hope when those around you encouraged you to let go?
I recall the story of a young man telling one of his high school teachers that he wanted to become a physician. The teacher discouraged him and suggested that he did not have the intellect, drive, or abilities necessary to pursue such a rigorous course of study. Years later, he returned to his high school to greet that teacher with his doctor of medicine degree in hand. Surely, that moment elicited feelings of vindication even as the pain of having to overcome the pain of being dismissed was revisited.
While vindication may occur in individual circumstances, as described above, it also can be a goal and achievement of a community. Marginalized and oppressed people groups may feel vindication at the dismantling of systems that demean and diminish their value, security, history, and truth. Participants in a class action lawsuit pursue recompense for damages caused by reckless, negligent, or injurious behavior and choices. Sometimes, restitution takes the form of a public acknowledgement and apology for wrongs performed in the past even when those extending the olive branch were not perpetrators of the offense but may have benefitted from the outcomes.
Certainly, Isaiah spoke to a people seeking vindication for generations of exile. The message has evolved over time from the first warnings of impending doom and peril to this point at the precipice of restoration. Still, their homecoming evoked dismay and disappointment as they surveyed the devastated landscape.
An issue continuing throughout Isaiah 40–66 is the deferment of God’s promise of comfort and deliverance. From the very beginning (Isaiah 40), the disconsolate exiles protested that their way is hidden from the LORD, and [their] right is disregarded by [their] God. (40:17) When the exiles returned to their homeland, hopes of a new and improved life failed to materialize. Life in a fractured and fractious community as described in Isaiah 56–59 brought different problems….From beginning to end, chapters 60–62 emphasize the glorious future of the once devastated Jerusalem. It will be restored to include Zion’s children, and also kings and peoples of other nations. Numerous images describe the return of fertility to land and people, the radiance of rebuilt Jerusalem, and the shining beauty of the city and its inhabitants,all of which demonstrate the reversal of Zion’s fortune.
Chris A. Franke
The people are considered as a single unit, and the change in fortune reflects anticipated restoration for the inhabitants of the land, which includes multiple identities. Not everyone was exiled during Babylonian and Assyrian dominance. The remnant that remained continues to live in the territory, some continued to exist distinctively from the invaders while others intermarried and forged new cultural identities with ties crossing boundaries and borders. In addition, the land is not isolated from the rest of the world and foreigners migrate into the territory. The returning exiles come home to a land occupied by a plethora of people who must learn to coexist if a lasting peace is to be forged from the ruins.
The situation is uncertain yet the prophetic exhortation is to rejoice. The reunion is disheartening and overwhelming yet the promise remains: circumstances change, have changed, and will change. The long period of waiting is ending and the moment of glory is imminent. The wedding imagery evokes the essence of the covenant engaged by God and the people. The implied restoration of the temple, a primary symbol of their identity as a community of faith called to live in purposeful relationship with the Holy One, indicates that their salvation and vindication is assured.
Still, the passage holds the tension between promise and reality as the text shifts from one chapter to another. The voice speaking either changes from one character to another or from one perspective to another. Rejoicing turns to decisive pronouncement.
A solo speaker opens the scene as in 61:1-3, but the tone conveys angry determination instead of quiet firmness. He announces a speech for the sake of Jerusalem/Zion. The key questions are: Who speaks? How does this relate to what preceded and what follows? If this is YHWH or the prophet speaking on behalf of YHWH, one would expect the tone and tenor to continue the development of themes from chaps. 60 and 61…..The content seems to be directed against YHWH’s silence or inaction). Vv 6c-7a are clearly intended to evoke calls on YHWH to change his direction in dealing with Jerusalem. Since the contents of the chapter do not continue the earlier themes, the speaker must be someone different, perhaps an administrator who leads a group in Jerusalem in a demonstration against YHWH’s announced policies of having an open city and of depending on Persian defense. YHWH does not speak until v 8.
John D. Watts
In the lectionary passage, the audience does not hear from God, only the prophet speaking on behalf of the people about their God and their condition with the emotional intensity fitting a complicated homecoming and the prodigious rebuilding project confronting them. The prophet reminds them that God has not abandoned them and is not punishing them. God covers them and equips them in majestic and jubilant fashion. They shall be vindicated, cleared of wrongdoing and proven worthy of the honor the Holy One will bestow upon them. Isaiah is insistent that it will happen, and it will be visible to them and to the nations. Friend and foe shall witness what God shall do on their behalf as they claim fully their inheritance as well as their homeland.
The people face a new future, but it will also alter their identity, symbolized by the bestowing of a new name. Significant life events often are accompanied by some new identification marker. Organizations, like businesses or even churches, that restructure for renewal and repositioning often change their name to reflect a new identity. Sometimes, it may be a new title or designation. In other instances, new names may be given as replacement or alternative for existing monikers. Names distinguish one from another as they note who we are; new names reflect a change in condition so profound that identity has shifted to the degree that the old name is insufficient or inappropriate to convey identity.
The final step in this vindication progression reads as a coronation. The crown, however, is not intended for one head. The people will not be ruled by a royal family; they will live as the royal family. All will receive the inheritance. All will enjoy the splendor. This is the reign of God–full of glory, salvation, and vindication for the people.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“My Country ’Tis of Thee“
By W. E. B. DuBois
Of course you have faced the dilemma: it is announced, they all smirk and rise. If they are ultra, they remove their hats and look ecstatic; then they look at you. What shall you do? Noblesse oblige; you cannot be boorish, or ungracious; and too, after all it is your country and you do love its ideals if not all of its realities. Now, then, I have thought of a way out: Arise, gracefully remove your hat, and tilt your head. Then sing as follows, powerfully and with deep unction. They’ll hardly note the little changes and their feelings and your conscience will thus be saved:
My country tis of thee,
Late land of slavery,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my father’s pride
Slept where my mother died,
From every mountain side
Let freedom ring!
My native country thee
Land of the slave set free,
Thy fame I love.
I love thy rocks and rills
And o’er thy hate which chills,
My heart with purpose thrills,
To rise above.
Let laments swell the breeze
And wring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song.
Let laggard tongues awake,
Let all who hear partake,
Let Southern silence quake,
The sound prolong.
Our fathers’ God to thee
Author of Liberty,
To thee we sing
Soon may our land be bright,
With Freedom’s happy light
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King.
For Further Reflection
“In not a single one of these little campaigns was I victorious. In other words, in each case, I personally failed, but I have lived to see the thesis upon which I was operating vindicated. And what I very often say is that I’ve lived to see my lost causes found.” ― Pauli Murray
“For most of us, the first experience of love, even if it doesn’t work out—perhaps especially when it doesn’t work out—promises that here is the thing that validates, that vindicates life. And though subsequent years might alter this view, until some of us give up on it altogether, when love first strikes, there’s nothing like it, is there? Agreed?” ― Julian Barnes
“Even if not immediately, love will bring us justice, peace, and vindication, and when we open our eyes to the truth that love is wider than the river of grief, we can move toward the mirror and recognize ourselves again.” ― Amber C. Haines and Seth Haines
A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at //ucc.org/SermonSeeds.
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (firstname.lastname@example.org), also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.
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