It is already the first Sunday of Advent, 2022. Time has flown by this year, and most of my writing intentions vanished. But Advent is a time of reflection, preparation, and for me, a time of inspiration. God was so inspired to send his Son as a tiny baby, that I cannot help but be stimulated to respond with deep thoughts and contemplation.
The first Sunday, then, is a promise of HOPE. The idea of HOPE is completely antithetical to all the current reports of hatred, wars, conflicts and struggles that have permeated our daily lives this year by the media coverage. The darkness of our world seems oppressive and constant.
Yet, we lit a small candle this morning, representing the first light of the Advent season. This diminutive light interrupted the darkness just for a moment as we considered the hope that was sent to humanity in the form of a baby in a manger.
I reflect back on history and the Israelite nation in the Old Testament. When God made the nation his covenantal, chosen people, he promised them that he would never leave them. He would send them a Savior, a Messiah, who would restore, redeem and guide his people.
This Messiah would bring hope to the oppressed nation; this child would be a “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace, there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, established and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7, my emphasis). This is a divine promise of a King who will carry out the program promised by God – enduring, compassionate, provider, protector. He would rule with wholeness (“shalom”) and justice for individuals and for all of society.
To be sure, we find hope all over the Old Testament, in spite of the trials and the hardships of the people. For example, one short psalm expresses it well: “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope…. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption” (see Psalm 130; also, Psa 42:5; 62:5; 119:74; 147:11; Isa 40:31; Jer 29:11). Over and over again, believers chose to put their hope in the Lord, not in corrupt human leaders, self-centered kings, military force or economic success.
Unfortunately, the nation could not remain obedient to their God, and their disobedience and rebellion delayed the coming Messiah. Israel had to wait thousands (yes, thousands) of years until finally, God sent the Messiah in the form of his Son, who redeemed the nation by his own life and death. Why did God wait so long? All part of his plan, we are glad that he did, because eventually the Gentiles were made a part of the blessing, and a part of the chosen people of God: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles [that’s us!] are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promises in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:6).
In the same way, Christians today are waiting….waiting for the “full redemption” of God’s people that began with the incarnation of his Son. We wait with hope and anticipation for the promises of God to be fulfilled completely. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Rom 8:23-25).
C.S. Lewis said that, “Hope…means…a continual looking forward to the eternal world. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next…It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.”