This morning at the mom's group at church, we were discussing advent - this sacred time each year when we stop and remember with expectation the birth of Jesus. As we were talking this morning, I was reminded of the lesson I taught last December at the mom's group in California. I am posting the lesson I taught again today because I can always use a reminder about Jesus Expected, especially at this time of year.
It was Christmas time, four years ago. I was sitting in my friend’s living room with a small group of friends from church. We were in our Christmas pajamas, painting our toe nails read with white polka dots. The conversation drifted easily from topic to topic, our kids, our Christmas preparations, books we were reading or cookies we were making. The talk moved onto New Year’s resolutions. I half listened. I do not like New Year’s resolutions, mostly because I don’t like to fail.
But then someone said they wanted to read the whole Bible and everything stopped. That became our shared New Year’s resolution. We would read through the whole Bible, every word, in 2010. If you ever get a chance to do this with someone else, jump at it, because there is something extra special about reading God’s word together. Where each conversation is sprinkled with, “How’s your reading going?” and “Did you read....” My relationship with God was strengthened by spending massive amounts of time reading His word that year but so to were my relationships with those women. Mere acquaintances became dear friends as we read alone in our own homes, knowing we were doing it together.
I will admit though that reading the Bible in a year is a marathon full of sprints to get the daily reading done. I found myself in the fall rushing through the Old Testament prophet books, my eyes catching the words but not having time to really understand what I was reading. I had no time to stop. No time to decipher its meaning. At the end of 2010, I had finished the whole Bible, and incidentally earned my ticket to a girls weekend with everyone who had finished the task.
It was a year later when I found myself lost. Lost spiritually and emotionally. Not confused or doubting. Not dejected. Just a bit lost, like I was walking through a new village without a map. I could see visual markers that guide me, a church steeple, a red cross on a hospital sign, but I was not sure where I was going - what my destination was. I needed my map, my Bible, but I could not decide where to start, what I was even looking for. And then I remembered. The books I read at warp speed, the ones I meant to go back and study in greater depth but had not. And so I turned to the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah was a prophet, a future teller. God used prophets to speak to His people, to tell them His will. Isaiah was full of warnings to turn away from pride, false worship and seeking protection in other nations instead of in God and if they did not, or more accurately, when they did not horrible things would happen. Isaiah tells of impending destruction and captivity for Israel. But he also tells of a coming savior. In the midst of all this pain and destruction, God will send a Messiah, a savior king. The Israelites, subjugated and held captive, dreamed of this one who would save them.
Isaiah 9:6 -7aFor to us a child is born,That was about 600 years before Jesus was born. After centuries of war and oppression and living under the crushing weight of the Roman Empire, the Jews of Jesus' day were eagerly awaiting this Messiah. The one born of the house of David in the town of Bethlehem. This Messiah would blot out injustice, rule as king and judge and fulfill the covenant promises. He would redeem Israel both politically and spiritually and free her from her oppressors.
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
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,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
One night long ago, a baby was born. A child unto us. The angels declared the good news to the shepherds who then ran to Bethlehem to find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. We know this story. And we know that later the wise men from the east visit bringing with them gold, frankincense and myrrh.
But there is a story in between, a story found in Luke 2.
Luke 2:22 - 35
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
We read here about Mary and Joseph following Jewish custom and taking baby Jesus to the temple to be dedicated. At the temple they are greeted by Simeon. He had studied the scriptures. He, like most Israelites, was waiting eagerly for the coming Messiah, the king that would raise up an army and throw the evil Roman empire off God’s promised land.
“For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Seeing baby Jesus, Simeon knows that he has seen God’s salvation for the Israelites, but not just for them alone but for the Gentiles as well. The very people that have held the Jews captive over the centuries.
He goes on to tell Mary that Jesus will cause many to fall and rise in Israel, that he will be rejected and spoken against and that her own soul will be pierced. Not exactly what a mother wants to hear on the day her first born son is dedicated at the temple. Not what she was probably expecting knowing that this baby was the Messiah.
The story continues.
Luke 2:36 - 38
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Anna knows this is the Messiah. She declares this truth to all those who are awaiting the Messiah, the redeemer of Jerusalem.
First the angels appear and tell the shepherds of the birth of a savior, who they find exactly where the prophets said he would be born.
And then, at the temple, baby Jesus is confirmed as the Messiah by both Simeon and Anna. Two different people touched by the Holy Spirit who were waiting and waiting and waiting for the Messiah to come.
Jesus, this baby born in a manger, was and is the Messiah that the prophets had foreseen.
But was he the Messiah they were expecting? Was he going to be the King of the Jews they were all anticipating? Or was Jesus, like Simeon said, one that would cause people to fall? One that would bring pain to his mother’s soul? One that was for the Gentiles as well?
The Jews of Jesus’ day were expecting a conquering hero. A king which the prophets had proclaimed. But it seems that many Jews had forgotten the rest of the prophesies. The writings of the suffering servant who would come to save the world.
Isaiah 53:3 - 5He was despised and rejected by mankind,Lawrence O. Richards writes in The Teacher’s Commentary, “The Jews’ of Jesus’ day, looking for the coming glory, did not see the majesty of the suffering.”
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
The Messiah, the servant king, the redeemer of all of God’s people, came into this world quietly. He lived most of years a small life. It was not until his few years of ministry did anyone even really pay attention to who he was said to be.
As I read though Isaiah, I saw the images put forth of the coming Messiah. I read of the one that would bring justice and turn away those who plundered his people. The savior, who will meet out God’s wrath on the oppressors.
When I think about the Pharisees, the keepers of the law, and wonder why they could not see Jesus was God’s son, I think about what they had been taught about the coming Messiah. I think about how much the expectations of a warrior king were blinding them to what God really intended. Prophesies 600 years old. Turned over and over in people’s minds. The words shifting in meaning over 6 centuries. The expectations of the Messiah changing as the words are passed down from generation to generation to generation. I imagine that as the Israelites scattered, as they lived under harsh rule of other nations, as they dreamed of the coming Messiah, their eyes focused on the passages of scripture that gave them hope of a coming king’s rescue.
Many missed Jesus, when he was alive and walking the earth because he did not come as they anticipated. He did not meet their expectations of what the Messiah would be. His brutal death on the cross proof to many that he was not the coming one.
We do that too. We declare situations good or bad based on how we want things to be. A lost job is bad. A healthy baby is good. We give absolute value, either positive or negative to things with words like good and bad. What if we shifted our language. What if we used descriptive words such as painful, happy, joy filled, agonizing, depressing, encouraging when describing the events and conditions of our lives. What if we acknowledged that God shows up in all these things and that His being there is good? Not that the death, the loss, the broken relationship is good, no those things hurt and are scary and painful and heartbreaking. But God in them, He is good.
I wonder if we risk missing God altogether when we hold too tightly to how He should appear?