Isaiah 61:1-3 ESV
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
Two and a half years may not seem like a long time to many people, but to a prisoner, it can seem like forever. Young Earl had barely begun his service to our country when his unit was ambushed in Northern Africa and he ended up in a German P.O.W. camp.
No one outside of the veterans who have experienced it can understand the oppression. The loss of liberties can be disheartening and depressing. And they will cling to any good news that makes it to them.
Perhaps it was enduring those prison hardships as a P.O.W. that gave Earl all the more focus on those he loved. An adoring husband and loving father, Earl raised a healthy, happy, and fun-loving family. More importantly, he headed a household in faith.
But the prison of hard labor and poor care on the potato farm was nothing compared to the prison of sin that Earl and every one of us were born into. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” That sin we were conceived in was holding us captive. Not one of us could release ourselves. It was not until our dear Lord came and worked His redeeming work that this changed.
When Jesus preached His first sermon in Nazareth, He read and proclaimed another passage from Isaiah that speaks the same themes. As the Messiah, His mission was about release. Releasing the blind from their darkness; releasing the deaf from their silence; releasing people from bondage to sin, death, and the devil.
When Jesus came and was conceived and born, He began our release. As He came to the cross, and suffered and died on that cross, the release was purchased. As He burst from the prison of His tomb, our release was sealed.
Across the years, the release is delivered through the Holy washing of Baptism. The raging flood of the font breaks the bonds, crushes the chains, bursts the gates of brass and causes those iron fetters to yield.
Earl had the joy of release from the German prison, where Red Cross care packages and an occasional bit of food beyond potatoes and black bread had been the only comforts. After two and a half years, our Savior gave him freedom from his earthly enemies.
But far more joyful was the release from sin and death that Jesus gave through His Holy Baptism, His Holy Gospel, Holy Absolution, and His Holy Supper. In these precious Gifts, Earl was frequently reminded that our Savior released him from these enemies of the soul. In these Gifts, we all have joined Earl in experiencing the thrill of release.
Over recent weeks and months, Earl faced yet another captor: leukemia. The gates of brass and iron fetters did not surround him; instead, they ran through his veins. Yet in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday morning, Earl finally was granted a peaceful release. The Lord had mercy and flung wide the doors of paradise. The confines of this suffering world were opened and he was blessed with liberation beyond our imagination.
As you approach this holy season of Christmas, it will be a challenging and hurtful time. But do not despair. As Jesus brings release to you in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, He is bringing you into communion with Earl. Jesus frees you from sin in the very same sacrament that He gives you a foretaste of heaven, and joins you with Earl in celebrating and welcoming the Coming King. Amazing! With every Eucharist, you rejoice with Earl in the bliss of heaven!
Today, the Third Sunday in Advent, has the Latin name Gaudete. It means, “Rejoice.” And so we are reminded by God to rejoice and join Earl in singing with joy in our hearts, “Hark the glad sound! The Savior comes, the Savior promised long; let every heart prepare a throne and ev’ry voice a song.” “He comes the pris’ners to release, in Satan’s bondage held. The gates of brass before Him burst, the iron fetters yield.”
We live in this world awaiting that rejoicing release as well. We continue to suffer in the prison of this earth, fenced in by sin, threatened by death, and guarded by the devil. But our liberating Lord awaits the day when He will gather us with Earl and all who have departed in the faith. He desires to come and gather us home with Him forever, echoing the same words of love that He has just spoken to Earl: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter into the pleasure of My Father’s kingdom.”