The later chapters of Isaiah have always held a place in the Christmas story. In this, the third section of Isaiah, Israelites have returned to Judah as the prophet continues to speak hope, even though it all looks hopeless. It is tough to grab ahold of a promise of hope when all you see is hopelessness. However, these words of hope are not just a promise to the returning Israelites, it is a hope that applies to us as well. We too look at the impossibility of transforming our world, we see the evil, we see the disregard of truth, we even see our religious institutions falling prey to the lures of lies and deceit. Just as Isaiah prophesied to a people who could see no hope – hope was there, it had always been and will aways be there, we just have to realize that hope does not come in our ability or power, or even the ability and power of another – it is already present in God.
Isaiah is proclaiming very extravagant promises to the hopeless. There is a huge difference between Isaiah’s words and the destruction that they see. There is a huge gap between hope and the realities of their history.
Michael J. Chan, Luther Seminary, takes this moment that occurred over 500 years before the birth of Christ and explains the connection to us over 2,500 years later.
‘For centuries, Christians have waited for the second “Advent” of their lord. They give voice to this longing in the weeks leading up to Christmas. And while Advent and Christmas are typically seasons of joy, careful thought reveals that Advent is also a season of sighing: Celebrating Christ’s first Advent is fine, but what about the second Advent? Where is our Lord [now]? Where has God been while disease, poverty, violence, and hunger afflict creation? Sure, humanity can do more, but the eschatological and apocalyptic texts of the Bible indicate that humanity cannot do it all. God is needed. The world is constantly changing but will it ever be transformed? Where are you God? … ”’
This season of focus on the birth of a baby is a reminder to us all that God’s extravagant hope is present even though all we can see is a powerless baby lying in a stable surrounded by nothing that looks hopeful. But, it is in the impossibility of that baby that we rest, work, and wait – we wait on that baby until right time when what we cannot do is done for us.
Why did God make a garment of skin for Adam and Eve before they were sent out of the garden? Because they were about the face the reality of creation, an intentionally engineered plan where things work together to sustain humans but also to sustain itself. Sometime this reality means that place and seasons on this planet can be everything but inviting. Adam and Eve were about to learn of cold days and a sun that can parch the skin. While this was all necessary for the planet, it is sometimes miserable for humans. Whey did God tell them to till the ground and take care of the creation? Because they needed this functioning earth for their own survival – ‘take care of this creation’ commanded the creator.
Our Psalm for this week can easily be dismissed as a simple Psalm of praise, but it is actually much more, it is a reality check. There are going to be miserable and tough days on this earth, because that is how the earth works, it is how crops grow, how animals survive, and how we exist. Creation is a gift that must to be recognized, attended to, investigated, protected, and appreciated. At the same time, we have to recognize that a bad day on earth is still a day of hope. We, who live in the state of Oklahoma are all too aware of almost every natural calamity known to humans – we also have seen the hope of humanity acted out in the midst of those calamities. This Psalm is a reminder that even though we may be attending to newborn in the depths of a cave surrounded by farm animals, we still have hope, it is actually lying right in front of us.
The context of these words from the apostle Paul are much better understood if we first read the preceding 3 verses.
Heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world.
This can now be a metaphor for what Christ did. Just like heirs who owned the property and riches, as minors, are unable to make decisions without the guidance and approval of their guardians – we now have the Spirit as our guardian guiding us as we process the riches of God.
Eight days after Jesus was born he was circumcised, probably by Joseph in the stable. Then, 40 days after he was birthed, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for the sacrifice and rite of purification. We see that they offer a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons, because they were unable financially to afford the lamb that was needed for the standard sacrifice. While at the temple they have two different individuals engagements, Simeon and Anna. The story behind these two encounters is telling, precious, treasured, and above all, prophetic, and maybe terrifying. It was a treasuring experience for these two exhausted individuals.