As we contemplate Advent, our thoughts may turn to our own waiting. My particular season of waiting has been swirled with disappointment and tension, joy and awe. The four themes of Advent – hope, peace, joy, and love – are beautiful indicators of how our waiting should be characterized. I often find myself waiting in just the opposite manner. In passages often used in the Advent season, biblical characters reflected the same struggle and temptation in waiting many of us face.
Waiting in Hope in Advent
Passage: Isaiah 8:11 – 9:7
Focus Verse: Isaiah 8:17 (ESV)
“I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.”
Advent teaches us just as much about waiting in hope as waiting for hope. The prophet Isaiah lived at a time when the Assyrian invasion was imminent. Security was fragile, causing his fellow countrymen to despair. But God called him to live differently, not walking in the way of the people and not fearing what they fear. Extremely countercultural for his situation and time, Isaiah was called to wait upon God in hope, even when God appeared far away. Not many of the people around the prophet would follow in his footsteps. Isaiah and the two children born to him early in chapter 8 were testimonial of God’s faithfulness and presence among his people. Putting their hope in the Lord would be a well-proved sanctuary.
About six decades before Christ’s birth, Palestine came under Roman rule. Tensions between the Jews and their Roman occupiers swelled like a festering sore, oozing out in distrust and animosity. This is the situation in which King Herod took the throne. Suspicious of any perceived threat to his rule, Herod placed all of his hope in himself in order to protect his position. When mysterious wise men arrived, claiming to come pay homage to the true king of the Jews, Herod devised a ruthless plan to destroy hope (Matthew 2:13). God’s plan was bigger. Herod’s iron fist would not be able to secure the government on his own shoulders.
The enemy of hope would soon rather have us destroy it. But if he can’t get us to destroy hope, he might work to cause us to doubt it. It works to the same effect in his book.
Zechariah was a righteous man (Luke 1:5-6), chosen by lot to serve in the temple. We know something else about him, too. He and his wife Elizabeth were childless. While praying for his homeland Israel, he likely petitioned God to bring the promised Messiah from the line of David and perhaps included his own personal request for a child. The angel Gabriel appeared, announcing Zechariah’s prayer had been heard. They would have a son who would be the forerunner of the Messiah. Zechariah’s immediate reaction is doubt. “I’m old. Elizabeth is old. How is that possible?”
Doubt can set in quickly to quell hope. Coupled with doubt, forgetfulness fogs our spiritual memory of God’s mighty acts in the past. This can happen to seasoned saints and those with years of ministry under their belt. Zechariah and Elizabeth were not the only aged and barren couple surprised by an unexpected birth announcement. Abraham and Sarah were past child bearing age when God promised the birth of Isaac.
Advent presents us with options for waiting.
- We can choose to wait upon the Lord, with our hope in him.
- We can opt to rebel against God in our sin and try to destroy hope.
- We can allow the disappointment of waiting to lull us into doubt rather than looking back to God’s promises in hope.
Are you tempted to believe hope is for those who have it all together? God does not reserve hope for the spiritual or social elite. Rather, it’s a gift for all. We only need to set our hope in him through faith to receive it.
O come, all unfaithful, downcast and defeated,
The place for such as these is Bethlehem.
Come hear the gospel, good news for the sinner
O bring your burdens to him,
Praise from all creatures due him,
The way to God is through him,
Christ the Lord!