“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicates when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things into which angels long to look!” (I Pt 1:10-13).
This is the greeting that the apostle Peter gave to the exiles of the Dispersion, the diaspora Jews scattered far from their home in Jerusalem in what is now modern-day Turkey. His encouragement was: “look at the good news, the salvation now given through Christ! Even the prophets and angels long to look into these things!”
To evangelical Christians raised in North America, the name Jesus Christ may seem so commonplace that we forget how good the news of his coming was to his contemporaries. Throughout ancient Israel’s history, they were plagued by foreign invaders, divided by dissents over worship and leadership, had their place of worship destroyed, were driven into exile, and lacked any safety or peace. Their hope truly needed to be in God for so many things we might take for granted today, and all these hopes were culminated in God’s promises of deliverance through his prophets.
Over centuries, the prophets revealed bit by bit the idea of what this person who was to come would be like. First Moses told the Israelites that there would be a prophet like him from among the people (Deut 18:15). Hundreds of years later, under threat from the Assyrian empire, Isaiah identifies “a shoot from the stump of Jesse”, “a child … a son” who will reign over the throne of David. The child will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” and will “establish and uphold it [the kingdom] with justice and righteousness” forever (Is 9 and 11). (Perhaps not immediately identified with the same person, Isaiah also spoke about the suffering of a servant of God bearing the iniquities of many and making them to be counted as righteousness; Is 53.) Micah of Moresheth further specified that the child was to be born in Bethlehem of Ephrathah (Mic 5:2). In the midst of exile in Babylon, Daniel spoke of one “like a son of man” who was given an everlasting dominion “which shall not pass away”. Upon return from exile, but still relying on their hope that God would protect Israel from enemies, Zechariah announces the coming of the king on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zech 9:9); Malachi writes of a messenger that will be sent before God, and that Elijah the prophet will come before the day of the Lord (Mal 3:1, 4:5-6).
Today’s readings capture well this progressive waiting, and the whole arc of history that preceded and prepared the way for the Messiah. As we wait for Advent, imagine what Solomon felt as he was writing Psalm 72, all the blessings and hope he was placing on his descendant, the future Davidic king! As we read the passage from Acts, imagine being a first-century Jew and hearing Paul preach how all the centuries of expectation has finally come to its culmination, and the prophesized king has now finally come! By presenting Jesus as this prophesized son of David, and also John the Baptist as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachi, Paul shows that for those who know the Scriptures, Jesus is so much more than we often think about when we think of Christmas. Imagine the coming of the king as a concrete hope, a long-anticipated deliverance from present and future circumstances, a force for righteousness, justice, and peace. Imagine the oppressed people whispering hope to one another, such that even the ordinary people knew that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem (John 7:42).
And now, things even greater than these are to come, things into which even angels long to look. Christ will come again with all his holy ones, and all afflictions, idols, and what is impure shall never enter that finally-established eternal kingdom. As Isaiah prophesied, we will weep no more, and finally behold our God with our own eyes. In this season of Advent, I pray we continue to wait for the coming of the Lord, this time for the day that he comes again, to bring us into the new heavens and the new earth.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art!
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart!
Allen Lai ’20 is a senior in Quincy House studying Chemistry and Physics.