It's that time again. The time of year when people fill shopping malls and spend an incredible amount of money on gifts for other people. While the act of giving gifts is not an inherent problem, the focus during the Christmas season tends to become a problem. The focus, as many know and proclaim, should be the birth of Christ, which is what the season of Advent is all about. Today marks the first Sunday of Advent—Hope.
For centuries, the people of Israel suffered. They suffered at the hands of the Egyptians. They suffered at the hands of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Romans. Throughout these times of hardship they continually cried out to God for salvation. God sent them help, but suffering always returned.
The prophets foretold of the one who would come and set Israel free once and for all. The shoot from the stump of Jesse would usher in the kingdom of God. Many prophecies in the Scriptures told how the Messiah, or the Anointed One, would bring peace to Israel. With the coming of the Messiah, Israel would finally know peace. So for centuries the people of Israel waited... and waited... and waited.
The prophecies of the Messiah gave them something they needed just as much as freedom—hope. For a nation that constantly found itself in bondage, the knowledge that a savior would come at some point gave them hope to make it through the difficult times. The ability to look ahead to future peace brought comfort to present sufferings.
When the Messiah finally did arrive, it was not the way in which Israel expected. Israel was looking for a king to come into power and kick out their oppressors. Instead of an illustrious prince, they got a Messiah who was born in the poorest of settings possible. Instead of a military leader, they got a pacifist. The kingdom of God was ushered in, but it is a kingdom of peace rather than military might, not at all what they expected.
I remember Christmases when I was growing up and the expectation that comes with presents. I had my wish list. I knew that presents sat under the tree. Even though I didn't know exactly what I was getting, I could see those mystery boxes sitting there, taunting me. Each day that Christmas morning grew closer, the anticipation and expectation grew more and more inside until I felt like I was going to explode.
I imagine that's how all of Israel felt for centuries, but to an even greater degree.
The hope that Christ brought to us is a hope that transcends this earth. The hope we have through Christ is the hope that we will one day reside in the presence of God Himself. Jesus was born on this earth so that He could die on this earth. The birth of Jesus is ultimately connected to the death of Jesus. The hope that we have in Christ is a hope that tells us that God loves us. He loves us so much that He lowered himself from Creator of the universe to a tiny, helpless baby. It is the most humbling act a God could do.
As we look forward to the coming of Christmas, we begin by taking a look at the hope that we have in Christ. We have hope because we know that regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, the suffering that we may experience, or the doubt we may have, Jesus has paid our price in full. He has redeemed us from the penalty of sin. He bought our souls with the price of his life. And the best part is that it's free for us. We only have to give our lives to Him.
The final hope we look to is the hope that Jesus will come back again someday. He promised that He would come back and restore our world. Much like the nation of Israel anticipated the promised coming of the Messiah, we look forward to His second coming. Live in anticipation.
Read part 2 here.
Read part 3 here.
Read part 4 here.