By Eddy Alemán
For some, Advent can be a rather confusing season. What is it that we’re looking forward to? Is it the celebration of the birth of Jesus? Or is it a reminder of the future return of the same? Are we looking back to the first coming of Christ in his incarnation, to the birth of the King, or to his second coming in glory, for judgment, when the kingdom of God will come in its fullness and all God’s creation will be redeemed and restored?
I think it’s both. The Advent season is the celebration of the birth of the Messiah and an opportunity to await the establishment of the peaceful kingdom described in Isaiah 11. Bethlehem was the beginning of a story that still has many chapters. The Jesus that was born there is not just a figure of the past; he is also the Jesus that is to come again. The kingdom he inaugurated in his ministry is not yet fully manifested in all of creation—it cannot be while evil still ravages the world.
In Isaiah’s time, the nation of Judah was looking for a Messiah, even as many Jews still do. They were facing desperate circumstances. Their king rejected God’s clear instruction and firm promises by forming political alliances with the Assyrians, only to see his plans backfire in the worst possible way. Now, it was either death or deportation, and it was only a matter of time. In such grave times, the human heart reaches out for something that transcends the moment—an escape, a deliverance, a way out. Our longings often turn to cries of the heart: “Does anybody out there care? Will someone come to rescue us? Will someone plead our cause?” That was the mood on the street in Judah in 700 B.C. and, in increasing measure, in our time as well.
Isaiah’s prophetic message gives us the final answer to those longings. God will send a messianic King endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Emmanuel—God with us! Though his appearance is human, his nature is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His mission is to heal the scars and wounds of the brokenhearted, to release those in prisons, sometimes of their own making, and to restore what has been lost.
But in Isaiah 11, the prophet takes us even further. He pushes forward in time, taking us past the earthly life, death, and resurrection of our Savior. We speed beyond 2016 and do not slow until we come to a day when this same Messiah, born more than 2000 years ago, will reign over the entire earth, establishing his peaceful kingdom where “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (v. 6).
The prophet holds up snapshots of what it will be like when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. May this Advent be a time of celebration of Jesus’ birth as well as a reminder of the peaceful kingdom to come.
Prayer: God of the ages, you see the end from the beginning in us and in the world you love. Encourage our hearts to rest in your good plan as we wait this Advent.
Eddy Alemán is director of strategic leadership development and coordinator of Hispanic ministries for the RCA. In that role he works with Hispanic church planters. The 2016 Advent devotions were written by RCA church planters and parent churches.