Last year, I created a playlist that I called Epic Xmas. I uploaded all my Christmas music and downloaded some classics. I now have nearly 9 hours of Christmas music ranging from Pavarotti to Cee Lo Green, Ella Fitzgerald to Justin Bieber.
While driving to my parents’ on Monday, I hit a good snow storm when I reached the Ohio border. The snow put me in the Christmas mood, so I popped in my Christmas CDs. I sang along to some classic Christmas music. There are plenty out there that would say Christmas shouldn’t start until after Thanksgiving, but it was snowing. Snow just brings out the Christmas spirit.
Listening to the CDs allowed me time to reflect on the Advent season and coming Christmas holiday. I found several themes in the music. There is snow and Santa, as well as love and Christ. Spending time with loved ones at Christmas time and celebrating the birth of our Lord were the messages of the music.
One song in particular summed up all Christmas music – Love Came Down at Christmas. Love Came Down at Christmas was originally a poem that has been set to music. The poem by Christina Rossetti was published in 1885. The poem reads:
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
Love was a gift from God born on Christmas day and a sign of God’s love. God has continually shown signs of His love for the people whom He calls His own. One time in history when Israel needed a sign was when God called Isaiah to speak words of hope to His people. The prophet Isaiah spoke a word to the people of Israel that a sign of God’s love was coming, a gift of freedom from oppression and renewal of their faith.
The time of Isaiah’s ministry of prophecy that chapter 43 is sometime in the 6th century BC. Israel had destroyed. Its entire infrastructure had been dismantled and the Temple had been burned down. The people were dispersed all over the Assyrian empire being separated from their homes and their friends and the center of their faith practices.
The people thought that their displacement was the judgment of God for their faithfulness and their turning away from the covenant with God. They felt God had left them to the fate of their enemies taking away their most favored nation status. The first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah had been full of words of judgment and woe from God by the mouth of Isaiah.
Chapter 40 of the book takes a much different tone when God begins to announce that good news is coming. The God whom Israel had thought was silent now speaks a word of hope for freedom from Babylon. God announces that King Cyrus of Babylon will be defeated and the people will be able to go home via a new highway God is building in the wilderness. For Christians, these chapters are full of illumination of who Christ was and came to do.
The people of Israel took some convincing that God was acting on their behalf. They had become so sorrowful they couldn’t believe their exile would end and they would return home. They didn’t understand that God had not left them; God was with them all the time. After a long silence from God, a long judgment, God was ready to restore them and show how much He loved and cared for them. Chapter 42 ends with Israel’s confession that their sin had led to the punishment they were experiencing.
Chapter 43 is God’s response to Israel’s confession. God had been harsh with Israel for their sin, but now God will liberate the people. God will be uncompromising in ransoming Israel, because Israel was created from God’s glory. All surrounding nations will see God’s faithfulness to His chosen people.
In these verses 16 – 21 of Chapter 43, God, as the people’s Redeemer, tells Israel that a path is being made way in the wilderness that the people can travel over to return home. There will be rivers in the desert for them to drink refreshing water on their journey. The people will praise God as their parade travels from Babylon to Jerusalem.
God promises that He is doing a new thing. They aren’t supposed to dwell on the past. They should not remember the former things. Israel can forget about their judgment and look forward to the new day when they will be restored to their land. Their punishment is over and forgiveness has been offered.
God has told them to forget the former things, but there remains a relationship between the old and the new. Israel has been punished, but because of that God can do a new thing. They must forget their most recent history, but remember their ancient history.
This new thing is like a new Exodus. The emancipation from Babylon will be like their emancipation from Egypt in the Exodus. They cannot know what God is doing and trust God to deliver them without remembering the Exodus. They must leave the Exile behind them and move toward home.
For the people of Israel, God had offered forgiveness after they had repent of their unfaithfulness. God was making a way for them to be restored as the chosen people of God all for His glory. God loved the people and the prophet spoke words that inspired their hope for their return to their home and restoration of the Temple.
Again and again, throughout human history, people have rebelled against God and turned away from His love. Israel had sinned against God giving up their devotion to God and turning toward idols. Their worship had become rote and empty and no longer pleased God. When they sinned, and when we sin, we find ourselves in trouble. It is only within a relationship with God do we find freedom to live.
At the first century, the people had again turned away from God. By then, the Temple had been rebuilt and the people had established Temple cultic practices. But, God was not pleased. Yes, they were under Roman rule at the time, but they were neglecting their call to care for the least of society and wholly worship God.
Into that environment, God’s new thing was Christ. The Gospel writers understand that Jesus is the new thing God did in the first century. He was the hope for freedom and deliverance. Jesus was the one bringing good news of a great homecoming to God.
The season of Advent is a time to hope that God will again do a new thing. We remember the deliverance God established in Christ Jesus and wait for His coming again. We wait for the coming Christ child and a new revelation from God. Hope of the season is a hope that something new will come that will establish Christ’s reign on Earth.
We live in the difficult time of already, but not yet of Jesus. God has already established Christ’s reign in Heaven, but has not yet established Christ’s kingdom on Earth. Each week, we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Already, Christ reigns in Heaven, but not yet on Earth. Advent is about remembering what God has done in Christ, but looking forward to the new thing God will do to establish His kingdom and will on Earth.
In essence, we remember His birth and wait for His second coming. We can trust that God will act, because God has acted in the past. That is the hope of our faith in Advent. Christ has come and Christ will come again. We look for the baby in the manger as a sign of the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.