When I was little and had to get shots, I would really work myself up. No matter how much time my mother gave me to prepare (from a week to just a few minutes) I would use those moments to torture myself in anticipation of the darn things. My mother would tell me, “Don't think about it! The anticipation makes it that much worse!”. I know it's odd, but sometimes I think about that memory at Christmas time. Just as the anticipation of a shot can make it that much worse, so does the advent of Christmas make it that much more joyful.
The word advent means “coming” but it means more than just the 25-day countdown to Christmas. Rather, it uses the four Sundays in of the month of December to anticipate the second coming of Christ. As the first to write for Calvary Ballard’s traditional observing advent through blog posts, I get to write about the history leading up to Christ’s coming.
I’d like to think that after Abram and Sarai’s long life together they had become contented with their lot in life. I imagine that they were a tribe with the rest of their family, living close and depending on one another. I imagine they would gather together often to recount the stories of how the earth was created; how their ancestors survived after the great flood that the creator God sent in his anger 400 years ago. Or how this God scattered them across the earth by changing their language. The telling and retelling of these old stories might have been what kept them bound to God. Unlike rest of those who were descended from Noah and should have remembered and feared God. They spread out and forgot. Possibly it is for this reason that God chose Abram and Sarai to be the mother and father of His people.
I don’t think we realize how little was known about God back then. Just the stories shared by word of mouth. He must have seemed so mysterious and tangibly powerful. Closer to what we imagine Greek gods to be like then how we see the God of the Old Testament. It’s not even until Abraham's descendants are were uprooted from the promised land, Canaan and moved to Egypt, where they multiplied for generations, considered a threat to Egypt and then enslaved, that God even tells them his name: Yahweh. It was then that He began to fulfil the promises He made to them. For 400 years, they held the urn of Joseph’s bones, and just… waited for God to take them home.
God led them as a pillar of light and a cloud of smoke to the promised land, but they turned to golden statues. He tore down nations before them, but they still disobeyed and intermarried with those God told them to stay pure from. He prospered their kingdom for them but they couldn’t obey. Eventually they rejected God as their Sovereign and asked Him for a King. The Kings couldn’t lead the people any better, and finally they were conquered and dispersed by other nations.
God wanted to live amongst his people, He wanted to guide them by His own hand. He wanted to conquer their obstacles and show them His might. He wanted to bless them and show them his unending love. And He wanted the other nations to know that He is Yahweh through them. But in their own power, they couldn’t manage to obey and stay close Him.
Even in their ultimate failure, Yahweh never stopped trying to redeem them. And ultimately us, His people. His plan to be close to, provide, and love us, had only just begun. For all her faults Israel must have known this. After being exiled they gathered themselves back together, rebuilt the temple, started trying to live for God as best they could, and waited another 400 years for Christ.
In that 400 years other earthly powers rose and fell. Eventually Rome came into power over Israel. Herod was Caesar, the Roman tetrarch of Galilee and Pilate was prefect (governor) over the Hebrew people. I imagine that the Hebrews were feeling akin to their ancestors living in Egypt. Even though they weren't enslaved, they also weren’t entirely free either. We know that when they remembered the prophecies of Jesus the Messiah, they generally expected a warrior or king to vanquish Rome and make them a powerful nation again.
As time tends to do, I am sure that the people of Israel lost touch with the flavor of the power and might of Yahweh. The oppression of Rome compared with the miracles Yahweh worked for them before, was nothing. If the promised Savior prophesied over was sent to merely free them from Rome, he would be one more miracle among many. But the Savior they anticipated was going to free them from a much greater oppression.