Isaiah 61:1-11 is the Hebrew Bible reading for Advent 3.
According to Luke 4:18-20 Jesus started to read from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue at Nazareth. It says that he “closed the book” (rolled the scroll back up?) pretty much in the middle of the passage. Isaiah 61:1 pertained to the things people actually saw in Jesus’ ministry: proclamation to the poor, healing, freeing captives (exorcisms). It is clear that Luke, who draws this quote from a rather eccentric version of the LLX, gives us a very condensed version of an occasion when Jesus preached at Nazareth. What Luke means to tell us probably is that at the synagogue Jesus gave his own interpretation to Isaiah 61.
Isaiah contains writings like this that come from long after the ministry of Isaiah of Jerusalem. Yet the events of Isaiah’s lifetime were still being interpreted by these later writers. Thus, the passages about the “Servant of the LORD” originally were a reflection on the life of Isaiah’s contemporary, King Hezekiah. He fit the suffering servant role because, through surviving a deadly disease (Isaiah 38), he saved Israel.
By the time Isaiah 61 was written, though, the later disciples of Isaiah seem to be thinking of themselves as having a ministry as servants of the LORD akin to Hezekiah’s. Thus the spirit of the Lord has come upon them (or one of them) and given this ministry of proclamation, healing, and hope–judgment too. Jesus quoted the passage to apply this to himself.
Isaiah 61:3 was not quoted in Luke, but would have been part of the new interpretation Jesus gave to the whole chapter.
“to strengthen those who mourn in Zion, to give to them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the clothing of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).
You wear a dark, colorless suit to a funeral. Widows used to wear black for a set period. But the servant of the LORD has a mission to replace the clothing of mourning with the clothing of praise.
This time of year lots of people wear red sweaters or ties. We use red and green, poinsettias and garlands of evergreen. The Spirit of God is upon his servant to call people of faith to bright colors and joyful carols no matter how dark the world or future looks. Garlands instead of ashes. The clothing of praise instead of the spirit of heavinesss.
Professor Stephen Cook quoted the interpretation of this verse by one of his students, Catherine Hicks:
“The mantle of praise makes us visible, in a witnessing way, to the rest of the world. Others see us praising God, rooted in God’s goodness and favor, like huge, strong, oak trees lifting their limbs high into the sky, their branches swaying with the rhythm of the Holy Spirit when the wind blows through them. The rest of the world sees us praising God in our ongoing worship, the praise we sow in our gardens, the praise that springs up as green shoots and that grows into a harvest of thanksgiving.”