In the weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s a challenge to avoid looking back. Nostalgia is rampant. Families observe many long-standing holiday traditions: unpacking treasured decorations, putting up the tree, sharing holiday meals featuring favorite menus and recipes, attending concerts and programs, sharing memories and family stories, and singing familiar Christmas carols. In many families the celebration cannot be considered complete without engaging in all of the customary activities, right down to the last tiny detail.
The Church, too, invites us to look back, but much further back: to the time hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, when prophets foretold the coming of a Savior who would fulfill God’s plan of salvation for his broken world. The Old Testament prophecies pertaining to Messiah, many of which are read during the Advent season, are comforting and hopeful:
He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. (Isaiah 40:11)
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. (Isaiah 61:1-4)
… they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid; (Micah 4:3-4)
Who wouldn’t want to live in a wholly just and peaceful world? Leaving behind the pain and chaos of the world as we know it, to live in a world without oppression, pain, and sorrow, should be universally appealing, even to those with hardship-hardened hearts. The promise of eternal life in such a world is encompassed in the promise of Messiah. The Israelites held onto it for many centuries. At the appointed time God’s Anointed One would come to liberate his chosen people. From the powers like the Assyrians and the Babylonians in the time of the prophets, to the Romans of Jesus’ earthly lifetime, to the anti-Semitic forces such as the Nazis in more recent times, wave after wave of oppression was endured because of faith in the promise that Messiah would come to overcome the human sinfulness that resulted in so many forms of human suffering. In God’s good time, all would be well.
It’s not exactly news that greed, lust for power, suspicion and hatred of others and other forms of human sinfulness have yet to be eradicated. The end of the age that Jesus spoke about has not yet come. Christians believe that Messiah came to earth once, and will come again to inaugurate the reign of peace on earth. So this season we join with the Hebrew prophets who still wait for Messiah’s arrival, and take comfort in their message of hope.
Questions for Reflection
1. What type of oppression in the world today is of greatest concern to you? How does it relate to the human inclination to sin? What could you pray for that might help mitigate the consequences of this type of oppression?
2. How have you experienced the presence of Messiah and of his Spirit in your life? How have these experiences impacted your daily life?