Today begins a 4 week period of time on the Christian calendar called Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus; it means coming. Advent is about three comings – the birth of Jesus, the incarnation, and the second coming. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year and is the time when the Church (universal) reenters the story of the coming of King Jesus our Messiah. Not only do we talk about coming, we also talk and experience waiting and preparation. In the Christian church it is a time of waiting and longing for the coming of the Christ child. It is also a time of preparing for the second coming of Jesus. The traditional 4 weeks in Advent are normally about Hope Peace, Joy and Love. And so many churches throughout the world during the next 4 weeks will be preparing themselves spiritually for Christmas.
We will be spending the next four weeks waiting. Waiting and preparing our lives, our selves, and our community for the advent of Jesus, both the first and second advent. We will be talking about the traditional themes of advent, that of waiting for hope, waiting for peace, waiting for joy, and waiting for love.
So today we are talking about waiting for hope. Tradition has it that on this the first Sunday of Advent in the Christian calendar we look ahead to the second coming of Christ. And so we will be spending our time today talking about waiting for hope. We will look at this idea of waiting for hope by looking at a text that was written on the other side, before Jesus coming, and with that text see the waiting for hope that was taking place then, as they waited for the first coming. And we’ll connect it to our world today when we long, wait and hope for Jesus to come the second time and set everything right.
Now our world is in desperate need of hope. In desperate need of being set right. All you had to do this week is to turn on the news and read about all the things that are broken in the world. For instance, everything around what is happening in Ferguson, MO. Now no matter what side or no side you are on in the matter, we can say that our world is broken. What is happening in Ferguson is a result of sin. A world broken by racism, violence, fear, hatred, injustice and division. It seems like we have lost hope so the return of hope is so badly needed. You see no politician, no public figure, no one, no matter how much hope they promise will ever be able to bring true hope to fulfillment. Will never be able to set things to right. We need the hope that only Jesus can bring. We need Jesus to set things right. We long and we wait and we hope for the second coming of Jesus just as the Israelites waited, longed and hoped for the coming of the Messiah to save them, redeem them, free them from the hands of oppressors, and to set them to right.
Let’s turn to a passage of Scripture that we’ll be looking at both today and next week that was written 700 years before the coming of Jesus Christ. Isaiah 9:1-7. Isaiah 9:1-7 says, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, 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. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
So we are going to focus today mostly on verse 2 and next week focus mostly on verse 6-7. But let’s do some historical unpacking to see what is happening here that Isaiah is talking about so that we can understand truly what the longing and hoping of the people of Israel is all about.
What we read in Isaiah 9 was taking place around 734 BC. And so Ahaz the King of Judah was under attack by an alliance of Israel and Syria. Ahaz was considering enlisting the help of the Ayssyrians. While this would neutralize the threats of his Northern neighbors, it would also require entering into an alliance with the “evil empire” of the day. What should Ahaz do? Isaiah urged Ahaz to stand firm in faith, trust in God and refuse coalitions with other countries. Thus reassuring the King that God would prove all the protection required and that the birth of a child would serve as a sign of this. But is that what happened in the end? No, Ahaz didn’t listen to Isaiah and did enter into an alliance with the Assyrians who did conquer both the northern territories and Syria. But then the Assyrian army kept on coming south and began to attack Judah and Jerusalem.
And so Isaiah, speaking the words that God gave him, tells Ahaz this, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan” Isaiah is telling the people of God that the gloom will be no more for those who are in distress. He is referring to the gloom that carries over from Isaiah 8:19-22 which says, “When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” Isaiah in chapters 7-9 is warning Judah about the coming invasion from Assyria. And this invasion of the Assyrians would be terrible for the Jewish people especially for the northern regions. That when they look around all they see if distress, darkness, and gloom and have no hope. You see they were first to be overrun in the Assyrian invasion, the first to suffer, and would be the first to see the light of the Messiah. In fact, fast forward 700 years to Matthew 4:13-16 and we find these words, “Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
So the Northern Kingdom overrun by the Assyrian empire cried out for deliverance and Isaiah said, that the people who live in darkness would see a great light and that those who lived in the shadow of death would see light dawning. That all wasn’t lost. That hope was on the horizon. In Isaiah 9:2 we see the word “walking” in the phrase “the people walking in darkness” and it means to live and denotes a thick darkness that brooded over the country- sot that they lived or walked among it. That all they could currently see was darkness and loss. So they cried out for deliverance, for hope. You see, even in this text, there is a cry for hope, for deliverance, for God to intervene in their condition, and to set it right. This text, especially verse 2 and 6-7 are anticipating the coming of the anointed one, a messiah. You see God’s people were abused by power hungry Kings, led astray by self-centered prophets, and lulled into apathy by half-hearted religious leaders, there arose among some for God to raise up a new King who could show them how to be God’s people. They yearned for the return of God’s dynamic presence in their midst. A deliverer who would come and free them from the hand of the oppressive regimes and empires.
The question that this immediately brings to my mind relates to who Isaiah was writing about. Was this great light that Isaiah was writing about just about a prophecy about the coming of Jesus? Did Isaiah understand that he was writing something that wouldn’t come true for 700 more years? Or was there another closer reality? Was this about the Messiah Jesus only or could there be dual fulfillment? The immediate connection seems to require us to understand it of deliverance from the calamities that were impending over the nation then. They would be afflicted by the Assyrian empire, but they would be delivered. Now Isaiah may have reaffirmed that there was an immediate deliverance of the nation from impending calamities, but there is also a fullness and richness of the language that seems to be only applicable in reference to Jesus. And Matthew usage of this passage confirms that fact. That yes there was a deliverer that was going to come and free the people from the hands of the Assyrian empire, but that one was to come that would deliver us from the hands of the true evil empire of sin, death, evil and hell.
The next question that I wrestle with then would be, yes we know the primary and most important deliverer who brings true and lasting hope, that of Jesus. But who would be the deliverer for the people of God who lived under the thumb of the Assyrian empire? Many scholars believe that historically the deliverer, the light that Isaiah is referring to is more than likely Hezekiah. Hezekiah, who ruled after Ahaz, was one of the very few royal heroes of Kings, who receives rare praise from the book’s deuteronomistic editors: “He [Hezekiah] did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Kings 18:3). Hezekiah’s reign is described in 2 Kings 18-20. He receives even higher praise in the Chronicler’s parallel version (see 2 Chronicles 29-32), where he is depicted as both a new David and a new Solomon.
Significantly, Hezekiah’s reign also plays an important role in Isaiah (Isaiah 1-39). Contrary to his father Ahaz who trusted in foreign assistance from the Assyrians rather than Yhwh (see Isaiah 7:10-17), Hezekiah is the paragon of faith and faithfulness. When Sennacherib’s armies threatened Jerusalem, Hezekiah trusted in Yhwh’s faithfulness and his power to save the city from Assyrian aggression (Isaiah 37). Hezekiah’s greatness, then, is not in his ability to bear the load of authority or to create an era of “peace” with his own hands. Rather, his greatness lies in his willingness to trust in God who can bring about these things, on earth as it is in heaven, and even we might add in a place as contentious as Jerusalem.
And what then is the result of this light that will come to those living and walking in darkness, in the midst of a shadow that seemingly will never end. Where hope is at a loss? What happens when the light (or in this case Hezekiah) comes? Look at verses 3-5 which says, “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.”
So Hezekiah came and brought hope to the people, but it didn’t last. It was only temporary because he died, the people went into captivity in Babylon, and the cycle continued. That is until Jesus came. Jesus is the true and deeper fulfillment of this text. He is the one that we can trust to bring hope in it’s fullness, when he comes again. When he comes again, hope will break forth. The world will be set right again. And our world, while currently living in the shadow of death, darkness, decay, and defeat will be remade. Jesus brings hope. You see Christmas and Advent is all about the coming of the world’s true King, the one who stops wars, who forgives debts, who establishes true justice and judgment on the earth and who brings true hope.
So two final thoughts on this idea of hope and how Jesus is the one who brings true hope. First, maybe you need some hope today. Maybe looking at the pain in the world, pain in your life, pain in the life of friend’s has taken away hope in your life. Hope that it will ever get better. Know that Jesus can give you hope if you seek after him and ask him to, and continue to ask. Secondly, who do you know that needs hope? As a embodiment of Jesus in the world, as a vessel of the Kingdom, Jesus calls us to embody and live lives of hope. You can be a vessel of hope to people that God sends you to.
So where do you need hope in your life? Where are you waiting for hope in your life? Who is God calling you to share hope with in the world? Who is waiting for hope that God may be calling you to live and embody hope in front of them? Those are some of the questions that we’ll wrestle together with.
1. What thoughts, questions, comments, insights, etc.. does the Scripture and/or the message bring to your mind?
2. Where do you need hope in your life right now? Where are you waiting for hope?
3. Who is God calling you to share hope with in the world? Who is waiting for hope that God may be calling you to live and embody hope in front of them?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?