And Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and He went to the synagogue, as His custom was, on the Sabbath day. And He stood up to read; and there was given to Him the book of the Prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
And He closed the book and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4: 16-21
Happy New Year Prayer Team!
The Bible passage I have used for the first message of 2021 is the Gospel lesson on September 1, which is the Ecclesiastical New Year. (Yes, the church year begins on September 1, not January 1, following an agrarian calendar which was in use in much of the world until recent centuries). The church begins its new year with a call to make it “the acceptable year of the Lord.”  I have chosen to begin 2021 with this same passage and same message, to make this year an “acceptable year of the Lord” in your life.
It is interesting to note that the things prophesied by Isaiah, which would be later read and lived by Jesus Christ, are things we should be doing on a regular basis.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me—The Spirit of the Lord is upon each of us. We all received it through Baptism and Chrismation. We ask for it to continually be sent down upon us in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, when the priest asked for the Holy Spirit to come down “upon us and the gifts here presented.” That’s why I hope you can go to church this morning, to thank God for the New Year and to receive His Spirit through the Divine Liturgy, and to receive Christ through the Eucharist.
Because He has anointed Me—Anointing was done over those who were going to be the kings and rulers over the people. Anointing was a sign of chosen-ness for rulers. While we are not anointed to be kings and queens, we are chosen by God, each of us in a unique and special way, to do unique and special things. I feel like God chose me to be a priest. Others of you, God chose you to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, architects, parents, spouses, bakers, friends. God chose each of us for something special.
To preach good news to the poor—Regardless of what your role, talent or job is, God has given each of us the capacity to preach the good news of the Gospel to others. I do it as a priest. Others do it as parents and friends. And everyone can do it as a witness in some way for the love of Christ, manifested in love of our neighbors. We meet the poor in two ways. The materially poor we are to help through charity. That’s why our church in Tampa operates a food pantry and supports both financially and with labor, the community outreach program called “Matthew 25.” Even more so than the materially poor, we encounter the spiritually poor on a daily basis. We are surrounded by people who need to know Christ, who either do not know Him well and need to know Him better, or who do not know Him at all. Each of us can play a role in this.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives—A captive is someone who is not free to go where he chooses. Many people are in prisons related to their life circumstances—this could include those born with learning disabilities, physical handicaps, those in grief, those who are out of work, and other difficult life circumstances. We are supposed to reach out and help those who feel like they are in captivity, to not only give them hope for a better tomorrow, but in many instances to provide the means for them to have a better tomorrow.
And recovering of sight to the blind—Many people are blinded by sadness or circumstances (sickness, divorce, frustration, and many other examples). It is the job of the Christian to help them regain their sight by leading them to Christ, who gives light for all to see.
To set at liberty those who are oppressed—Many of us ended the year feeling oppressed in some way, as if we are not totally free to live with joy or confidence. We ALL have the ability to bolster the confidence of others, as well as to destroy it. We ALL have the ability to bring joy to others, as well as to take joy away from others. We ALL have the ability to be peacemakers. And we ALL have the ability to be peace-takers.
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord—Everyone has the opportunity for a new start this year. And if you want to make a new start with Christ, then do the things outlined above. Dedicate this year to Christ. Pray. Read the Bible. Worship. Commune. Repent. Learn more about the faith. Apply what you learn. Preach the good news to others through your Christian witness. Fill your heart not only with feelings of gratitude but works of thanksgiving.  Help set others free. Bring others to Christ. Bring joy, confidence and peace to others. Be an encourager. And discipline yourself to do these things on a daily basis. If you do, when we get to the end of 2021, you’ll be able to look back and say that 2021 was an “acceptable year” in the eyes of the Lord.
Lord, thank You for bringing me safely into a New Year. Thank You for the blessings of the year that has passed. Bless me and my family in the year that is to come. As I begin this year, I dedicate it to You—In it I will try harder to live for You. I will try love You more and to express my love to my neighbor more. Help me to avoid temptation and keep my focus, today and throughout the year. May I make this a year that glorifies You! Amen.
I wish each of you a happy, healthy and spiritually prosperous New Year 2021!