I would like to begin an installment of advent posts, one for each Sunday before Christmas (though I am a little late getting this one out!). It is my hope that focusing on one aspect of God’s redemptive plan each week will prepare my heart (and yours too if you like!) for this coming Christmas season. It is so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle. I am finding, this year more than ever, that I desire to focus more and more on the 'unseen' gifts of the season - joy in relationships, love, salvation, and less on the 'stuff' of the season - the crazy retail market etc. This week my focus is Hope, the hope of a saviour and the joy of promises fulfilled.
Week 1 ~ Hope
“The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
‘Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come…
he will come to save you.’”
Threads of hope are woven throughout the Old Testament. God’s everlasting plan of redemption for mankind calls through the centuries.
His redemption plan came forth in spite of disobedience and failings. It was not due to our own merit, not for deeds or mighty conquest. Not for anything we have done.
Out of grace redemption comes. Out of God’s unfailing love redemption comes.
For thousands of years, God prepared His people for a Messiah. One who would forgive their sin and bring them from death to eternal life in Him. His redeeming love spoke through Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah and many others, calling people to repentance and obedience. Many waited and watched, yearning for a savior. For a time, all was silent.
Suddenly in Luke 1:11, an angel bursts onto the scene and delivers a perplexing message to Zechariah, a priest in the temple of the Lord. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were righteous in the sight of the Lord (v.6) but they remained childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive and they were both advanced in years (v.7). An angel, (Gabriel) appears to Zechariah, saying;
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.
He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.
And he will go on in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
After all this time, the Messiah is coming. It is no longer thousands or even hundreds of years off, it is now.
Yet, (being completely human and reasoning with human understanding), Zechariah asks how this child who will prepare the way for the Lord could possibly be. After all, they are well along in years, how could they conceive?
God faithfully demonstrates that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. The angel tells Zechariah as much. It will be because God has said it will be (v.19). Despite Zechariah’s disbelief, and the consequences thereof (v. 20-22), Elizabeth does conceive and responds,
“The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people”
Hope thunders again when Elizabeth is six months into her pregnancy;
“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her,
‘Do not be afraid Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever;
his kingdom will never end.’”
Jesus. The hope of nations. Everlasting Prince of Peace. He is coming.
Mary asks the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v. 34, foretold in Isaiah 7:14)
If there was ever a reason to doubt your ability to become pregnant, Mary had it, in the most obvious of ways. Yet nothing is impossible with God,
“The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.’
‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered, ‘ May your word to me be fulfilled.’”
Mary believes the words spoken to her. Events are set in motion to fulfill the hopes of all who have longed for the Messiah, the Son of God, who will conquer sin and death.
Jesus, who will bridge the gap between God and mankind forever.
Dwell on hope this week. Hope when all seems impossible, for nothing is impossible with God. Prepare your heart to rejoice with the coming of the King, the promise of God to redeem all people.
Like John, may your heart cry in the wilderness;
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.”
Isaiah 40:3-5 and Luke 3:4-6
Have hope. He has come.