Due to circumstances beyond our control, I did not get to preach last Sunday. Since it was the first Sunday of Advent I don’t want us to get behind on keeping the weeks. I had prepared an outline and notes and the first Sunday of Advent sermon would have gone something like this:
Hope – a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
I don’t usually begin by reading definitions from the dictionary but it seems appropriate for this occasion. Advent is all about the preparation – the anticipation and the waiting – for Christ to appear. Isaiah 7:10-17 is a well known passage that describes a sign given by God. Last year we focused on the names and titles listed in Isaiah 9. Isaiah was writing these things about 700 years before they came to pass. We sing about the expectant hope for Messiah in the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel. People need to have hope. Even in the face of difficulty, sometimes in the face of certain death, hope gives us the drive to push forward, to go on. In the Isaiah prophecies we find not just an empty hope but the promise of Almighty God. We have more than a reasonable expectation that his promises are true. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). God is not a man that he should lie (Numbers 23:19).
The Lord will give a sign. Some signs are posted to give instructions. “Speed limit 45 mph.” Not everyone follows the instructions, sometimes there are consequences but not necessarily. Other signs share truths. “Bump ahead.” Maybe you noticed the sign or maybe you weren’t even paying attention. Maybe you read the words but did not act on them. Whether you slow down or not, whether you understood the warning or not, a moment later you hit the bump in the road surface. The sign was there to tell you what to expect. Isaiah 7 tells us that the sign will be a virgin with child. That should be a pretty clear indicator, it’s not like there’s a whole bunch of those to get us mixed up. The sign shares a truth. Most people in the world did not pay any attention. Herod tried to undo what God had done. Many today will dismiss the truths of scripture even when they are outlined and explained. But those who notice the signs and heed their wisdom will have a safer ride and be happier when they get where they’re going.
You shall call his name Immanuel. There are other titles given in chapter 9 but this prophecy is mentioned specifically in Matthew’s Gospel:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).
The promise of Messiah, the sign by which they would know him, and a description of who he would be and the things he would do gave the Hebrew people a solid and sure hope for the future. We remind ourselves of these events during the Advent season so that we may have even greater certainty that God’s promises are true. Because he came once we believe that he will surely come again as he said.
What about right now? Go back to the definition. Do we expect that certain things will happen? Do we have an actual desire for Christ to be present in our lives? For many people today, including Christians, anything to do with God is reserved for church. He is Lord of our Sunday mornings from 9 or 10 until around noon. But God has given us signs for instruction and signs that share truth. What will you do today – and tomorrow, next week, next year – having seen and read those signs?