Israel’s Hope/Our Hope (Luke 2/Isaiah 9)
Israel’s hope, the hope that was to be our hope, was inserted into the world at a time when the entirety of it was under Roman rule. The whole world was in exile from a tyrant ruler ship, in need of a generous and merciful savior, a savior that was to take on the incredible burdens of this world and redeem the patrons from the death and suffering that lingered over the masses as they traversed about, answering to Caesar’s every beckoning creed.
This hope was announced to Israel as an answer to an upcoming captivity that was yet to play out, nearly 100 years prior to the Babylonian suppression and destruction of Israel. This prophecy was being laid out by Isaiah in Chapter 8 and towards the end of the chapter, Israel was told they would be enshrouded in spiritual darkness, sent into exile and “pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry…and they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.” (Isaiah 8:21,22) This is how Chapter 8 ends, seemingly hopeless, desolate and tragic. It is at this point, this disastrous moment in history that God chose to tell Israel about a future hope. This is where chapter 9 begins, it begins with a hope of a coming Savior, a “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (v.6b) a Savior that will carry our burdens, one that will carry the government and all its oppression and corruption on His shoulders. When this day finally comes (600 years later) He will chose to take the very form of our suffering human likeness and come to this world to endure the temptations that men face, yet to be without sin (Heb. 4:15) in order to provide salvation to all who accept. Through divine inspiration from the Almighty God, the prophet Isaiah was able to cast a vision 600 years prior about a birth of a Savior, a human being who though He “existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the very form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2:6,7) in order that He would come to break all human oppression and establish his rule on this earth. It was at this exact moment in History, some 600 years after the vision, some 500 years after the initial entry into the land by Babylon and the captivity was enacted, after countless generations of dismal hope and suffering and floundering in exiled darkness, this is the promise of Isaiah 9 fleshed out in human form. This is the mercy of God, who in the midst of the pain and suffering gave His son to us, an everlasting gift in order to put the entire corrupt government upon his shoulder. (Isa. 9:6) This hope points to a time when Christ will reign over an earthy kingdom that encompasses all the kingdoms and governments of this world (Dan. 2:44) and at that time “every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Phil. 2:10,11) This is the hope that we have that was mentioned in Isaiah 9 and interjected in a manger in Bethlehem.
NT Wright says the following about Luke Chapter 2:
The then global superpower wanted to raise taxes, so told everyone to sign up and pay up. That’s how the Middle East worked then, and, with minor adjustments, that’s how it works today. This was Caesar’s world, and unless you were fool enough to try to buck the system you shrugged your shoulders and did what you were told.
Yes, says Luke; but watch what happens next. The child who is born is the true king from the house of David. And all the ancient prophecies spoke of the coming royal child from David’s line as the king, not of one small country far away, certainly not of a heavenly kingdom removed from this earth, but of the earth itself, the world claimed by Caesar and taxed by Caesar, the world where the rich get rich at the expense of the poor while telling them they are giving them freedom, justice and peace. The world of empires from that day to this.
Luke’s story digs underneath this typical story of everyday empire and undermines it with the explosive news of a different empire, a different emperor, a different kind of emperor. Jesus isn’t simply another politician on whom everyone can pin their hopes and who will then let them down. His way of establishing God’s justice and peace on the earth was different to Caesar’s, different to the usual power games and money games, different in source, different in method, different in effect. We are today hungry for exactly that difference, and Christmas night is the time to ponder it.
Think back to that wonderful passage in Isaiah and listen to the hunger for hope, the hope of the coming boy-king. ‘The yoke of their burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken’, declares the prophet: good news for a people, like so many today, hopelessly enslaved whether by debt or force of arms or a combination of both.
And so God has broken our burden, all human oppression, all government repression, all of our hopelessness has now become transfigured into a wondrous and renowned moment in time, one that we can celebrate for Christmases to come until that glorious day when He comes back for His bride and renews the sum of creation back to what was originally intended.