Recently our teenaged son experienced a rite of passage: we introduced him to one of our generation’s cultural icons, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was a quote-along version showing at a local theater, complete with props. There were inflatable swords for battling dark knights (“It’s just a flesh wound!”), and you haven’t heard horsey clip-clopping until you’ve been in a theater full of moviegoers equipped with their very own coconut shells.
Turns out my kid was already familiar with The Holy Grail from his generation’s cultural standby: the meme. You can Google the Grail meme—it’s a seconds-long clip of John Cleese as Sir Lancelot the Brave, staring up at a cartoon sky (where Python fans know God has just appeared to give King Arthur and his knights a quest). The knights are awed by this divine message—and Lancelot’s fervor is evident in his meme-able response: he declares this is “a blessing from the Lord!” The knights’ wonder and awe are understandable; (cartoon) God has parted the (cartoon) clouds and given them a direct message, a vision of the (cartoon) Holy Grail. Surely this is indeed “a blessing from the Lord!” (Luckily for Arthur & Co., they don’t yet know how very not blessed their journey is going to be!)
We may sometimes feel like these zealous knights, certain that God has given us a gift, a calling, a mission, a blessing. The Bible does describe times when people receive and claim God’s direct blessing. But here in Isaiah 61, something different is happening. God’s people have suffered—are suffering—and God is not calling them to a legendary quest but promising to turn the whole world upside down to bring about redemption. Every injustice will be made just. Every oppression will be ended. Every broken heart will be healed, every prisoner set free, every mourner comforted. In response, God’s people will build, raise up, and repair generations’ worth of devastation. Then they will not proclaim “a blessing from the Lord!” for themselves—rather, “all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed” (v. 9). The whole world will recognize God’s presence with and reflection in them, and “righteousness and praise” will “spring up before all the nations” (v. 11).
It is pretty easy to claim #BLESSED status for ourselves; every small and not-so-small goodness in our lives should prompt us to give thanks. It is much harder to live the kind of life described in Isaiah 61, where we are so committed to God’s upending the world as we know it that other people—indeed, “all”!—recognize God’s blessing in us. Isaiah 61 reminds me of Hannah’s song (1 Sam 2:1-10) and Mary’s song (Lk 2:46-55). When the world’s power structures are broken down (Lk 1:52), when the hungry are filled and the rich sent away empty (Lk 1:53), when jubilee is declared (Is 61:2) and prisoners released (Is 61:1), how will we respond? Will the world watching recognize in us “a blessing from the Lord?”
- This Advent season, where do you notice the promises of Isaiah 61 (and/or 1 Samuel 2 and Luke 1) being made real? Where do you notice people—and especially people who claim to be God’s people—working against these promises?
- Think about people you know or know of who seem to you to be truly blessed by God. Why do you feel this way? What characteristics make you aware of God’s blessing in them? How do they bless the world in turn?
- What is the difference between recognizing and claiming (and proclaiming) God’s blessings in your own life, and having other people recognize God’s blessing in you? How is God glorified in each of these?
- Can you think of a time or a situation when someone claimed to be blessed by God, but the outcome was destruction and unrighteousness?
- Why do you think the results of God’s blessing in Isaiah 61 include building up and repairing devastation? Where do you notice these outcomes happening today?
- Verse 11 says another outcome of this blessing is that “righteousness and praise” will spring up “in all nations.” When the world recognizes God’s blessing in God’s people, the world will join in praising God. What do you think is the world’s response when God’s people act contrary to the promises in Isaiah, 1 Samuel, and Luke?
Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.wordpress.com.
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