The first part of ‘Anticipation’ explored what it is that we look forward to each Christmas. Part two focuses on what the Jews of ancient Israel were anticipating.
O come, O come, Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here. Until the son of God appear.
Obviously, this song wasn’t written by ancient Hebrews, but it communicates the desperation and anticipation in their hearts. Like castaways looking for a ship, or POW’s waiting for a SEAL team, the children of Israel were waiting for a rescue.
The song continues,
O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny. From the depths of hell thy people save, and give them victory o’er the grave.
This verse is specific in describing both the person and the purpose of their awaited redeemer. The “Rod of Jesse” will free them from “Satan’s tyranny.” They knew what to anticipate.
Luke records this truth well when he shares Zechariah’s first words, after nine months of God induced silence. Zechariah was John the Baptist’s father, by the way.
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
Zechariah’s words deftly weave in and out of history, present circumstances, and future promises. He speaks of the holy prophets and the oath God made to Abraham. The old man describes the truth that the God came and visited in the form of the child in swaddling cloths, and also brought rescue. Finally, he tells of how the church will respond to God’s visit. It’s beautiful.
The old prophets spoke,
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 ESV
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel,whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. -Micah 5:2
God promised Abraham,
Now the LORD said to Abram (Abraham), “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
And the Rod of Jesse had come,
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
Zechariah, the shepherds, the wise men, and the rest of God’s children were anticipating a very specific person, from a very specific place, to perform a very specific task. This person, Emmanuel, would rescue them!
They’d been waiting to hear from God for over 400 years. Generations had come and gone, anticipating the arrival of the redeemer. They looked forward to the First Noel with passion we can hardly appreciate. This is why they rejoiced when Jesus arrived in that manger. This is why they sang, why they traveled so many miles bearing gifts, this is why they celebrated.
Their anticipated rescue had arrived.
This is why we cannot feel the way they felt. We are looking back on a moment in time, a moment that can never be recreated. Just as you might reflect fondly on a great game, a family vacation, or your child reaching a milestone, but you cannot quite recapture the moment; we cannot fully recapture the First Noel.
But, we can anticipate the Second Noel.
Story will continue tomorrow.