Advent is traditionally the beginning of the church calendar. I’m not interested in church calendars, but I am interested in the themes of Advent, which include expectation, hope, anticipation, etc. In this series, I plan to examine these themes in the time before Jesus’ physical incarnation, while Jesus lived on earth, in modern times, and in eternity. This will probably be quite different from other meditations on Advent. That’s okay. I only hope that God uses my thoughts to encourage you as he has encouraged me.
For this post, I am thinking through the concept of expectation, waiting, and hope in the years between Creation and Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.
When God created Adam and Eve, he created them in his image and he created them to live in intimate relationship with him. Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden. But, sin changed all of that. Their relationship with God was twisted and damaged along with many other things, including their relationships with one another and the world around them.
The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15 ESV)
However, even though God kicked them out of the garden, he did not leave them without hope. In spite of the curses and difficulties that came about because of their sin, God told them and the serpent that a descendant of the woman would one day overcome the works of the serpent and the curses of sin. Here, for the first time in Scripture, God gives man a glimpse, a shadow, a hope of returning to that for which man was created – intimate relationship with God.
This was the first, but certainly not the last, glimpses that God would give man. He gave another glimpse to Abraham. He told Abraham that he was going to create a people and bless the world through him. As Abraham walked past the land, God had him stop for a moment and look at the “Promised Land”. Here was another glimpse, another shadow, another offering of hope. The promise was not yet fulfilled, but there was hope planted in Abraham’s heart, and Abraham had to choose whether to live according to that hope or according to what he saw around him. Abraham learned that God’s promises – Abraham’s hope – always came true, although sometimes man has to wait much longer than he or she would choose. Abraham had to wait 25 years before his first promised offspring was born, and he never saw either the nation of people or the nation of land. But, he had hope, and he lived according to that hope.
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV)
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6 ESV)
When the Torah was completed, there was another glimmer of hope given to God’s people: there was another prophet coming, and that prophet had not yet come. Hope… expectancy… waiting… But, as the prophets cried out continually, “How long, Oh Lord?” Man has a tendency to wait for a short time and remember for a long time. Yet, God was merciful and forgiving and gracious, and he continually told them, “Wait… a little longer… at the right time… you can trust me… remember how I heard your parents in slavery in Egypt… remember how I answered their cry… remember how I brought them through the wilderness… remember how I brought them into the land… remember… and wait… and hope.”
During this time of waiting, God provided prophets, and miracles, and kings, and angels, and words, and signs, and priests, and tabernacles, and temples, and altars, and sacrifices, and laws. All of these gave glimpses and shadows of things to come. All of these were designed to foster the hope of God’s people.
What were they waiting for? Yes, they were waiting for a prophet, and a king, and a priest, and a servant. But why? They were anticipating forgiveness, relationship, kingdom, wisdom, liberation, provision, protection, knowledge, health, longevity, riches, intimacy, strength, wholeness. They expected God to correct everything that had gone wrong at the Fall.
O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve! O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage. They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; 7 and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.” (Psalm 94:1-7 ESV)
Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? You plant them, and they take root; they grow and produce fruit; you are near in their mouth and far from their heart. But you, O LORD, know me; you see me, and test my heart toward you. Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and set them apart for the day of slaughter. How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither? For the evil of those who dwell in it the beasts and the birds are swept away, because they said, “He will not see our latter end.” (Jeremiah 12:1-4 ESV)
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. (Habakkuk 1:1-4 ESV)
So, the people of God waited. They waited four hundred years to be released from slavery in Egypt. They waited for a king. They waited for the divided kingdom to be reunited. They waited for the approaching armies. They waited while they were in exile. They waited hundreds, thousands of years for the Messiah.
Some waited. Some gave up. Some hoped. Some despaired. Some trusted God. Some took things into their own hands. Some expected God to work. Some thought that God had forsaken them. Some anticipated God to move again. Some decided they were on their own.
On this first Sunday of Advent, as I consider how the people of God waited before the incarnation, I’m reminded that waiting is not easy. Sometimes the wait is long, much longer than we expect and longer than we would like. Sometimes, the wait is so long that we forget what we’re waiting for, and we decide to latch onto what we have. Sometimes, the wait is so long that we stop hoping altogether.
But, we must remember those glimpses and shadows that God gives us, perhaps through a passage of Scripture or through a friend or through an experience – when we know the love of God and live the mercy of God. God gives us these glimpses to remind us that we have hope in him. He shows us shadows so that we can anticipate the reality behind the shadows. And so, through these glimpses and shadows, we live in anticipation, in expectancy, in hope.
Then the angel of the LORD said, ‘O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’ And the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the LORD of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. Cry out again, Thus says the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’ (Zechariah 1:12-17 ESV)