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 during the thirty (plus or minus) years that Jesus lived on this earth.
Sometime around two thousand years ago, a baby was born. But, this was not just any baby; this was God incarnate – God become flesh – God as a man. The world changed from the point. God could now relate to man as man, and man could relate to God as man. God was now with man – Emmanuel. As we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come”. And, as Jesus said repeatedly, “The kingdom of God is near”.
And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles- the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:13-17 ESV)
The long-awaited day was finally here. The great light was shining in the darkness. Hope had been fulfilled. Or had it?
As Jesus walked the earth, and as he taught, and as he made disciples, and as he healed, people continued to hurt. People were still oppressed. People still died. The fatherless, the widow, and the stranger still struggled to survive. Joy may have come to the world, but that joy did not completely replace the heartache and pain and suffering and oppression and loss and despair. There was still room for hope.
The small band that followed Jesus from place to place recognized the concern and compassion of their master toward the hurting and the oppressed. They saw him touch the leper and embrace the adulteress. They heard him speak life into the ears of the deaf and sing along with the newly restored tongues of the mute. They all danced as legs were given strength and life was returned to the dead. But, they also saw others who were sick, blind, deaf, mute, lame, dead – others who went without healing, without a touch. Life and death and suffering continued even as Jesus walked the earth.
Yes, this small band saw that the oppression continued, but they didn’t understand it. They knew that Jesus was the King that had been anticipated for so long. They understood that Jesus was ushering in the kingdom of God. They knew of the benefits of the kingdom – they had read the prophets. But, why did the pain and suffering and hunger and weariness and hopelessness remain when the King and the kingdom had come?
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23 ESV)
It was not only those who were physically and spiritually far away from Jesus who continued to be stained by the pain of life. Even those who were closest to the God-man had reason to hope, because their hope had not been fulfilled. They recognized the King and the kingdom, but they continued to long for more. They continued to hope.
They had much to learn about the ways of God and the ways of the kingdom. As they walked the dusty roads of Palestine, they heard Jesus tell stories about mustard seeds and mountains and pearls and fields and coins and sons and vineyards and talents. And, as they heard these stories, their hearts pounded within their chest. Yes! This is what they wanted! This is what they have hoped for; in fact, this is what everyone had hoped for and longed for and expected. Bring it on, Jesus!
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20-21 ESV)
But, instead of instituting an earthly reign, Jesus warned of more troubles. He told his followers that things would get much worse. This is not what they wanted to hear! They were ready to reign with Jesus, but he was telling them to suffer for him. They wanted a release from pain, but he was telling them to embrace the pain of this world.
They finally started to understand that in Jesus they were witnessing the beginning of the kingdom, but not its final fulfillment. There was more to come. There was more suffering to come, but there was also more joy to come. There was more pain to come, but there was also more peace to come. So, there was more room for hope – expectation – anticipation.
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Matthew 24:3-8 ESV)
All these are but the beginning of birth pains… This was not exactly what they wanted to hear. They were ready for the end of pain, and Jesus said it was just beginning. But, Jesus’ message was not a message of despair. Instead, his message was one of hope. The followers of Jesus finally understood that they could hope because of Jesus. In him they found another glimpse into the reality that God was creating. In fact, God was creating that reality through Jesus himself, just has God had created the world through Jesus.
While the prophets and the saints of old found hope in symbols and words, these simple followers of Jesus found hope in a person – the person of God himself. They found hope in his words and actions. They found hope in his concern and compassion. But, most of all, they found hope in his death and resurrection. Because he lives, they found hope for eternity.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20b ESV)
In much the same way, Jesus is with us today – perhaps even closer than he was to those early followers. In the same way, God often heals our hurts, soothes our pains, eases our discomfort. But, in other ways, we continue to struggle with the oppressions and evils of this world. Like those early disciples, we are learning that the kingdom of God is here, but it is still coming. In the midst of the suffering of this world, we have reason to hope. We have more to expect. We anticipate the fulfillment of God’s plan and the final coming of his kingdom.