Like many, I enjoy the challenge of solving a riddle - though, I suspect, I am not too good at them! See how you fair with this one:
My first is in hidden but not found in seen. My second’s in coming but not there in been. My third’s in promise and also expectant. My last is in Easter as well as in Advent. My whole is a word that can mean many things; from confident trusting to wishful thinking.
The answer, of course, is hope.
Hope is one of the loveliest words in the English language, and something we all need to have in life. Perhaps, therefore, this is why Advent is such a special time of the year; for it is all about hope: Hope that one-day Jesus Christ will come again and establish His Kingdom.
Many, many years ago, before Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and before the first Christmas ever took place, God’s people, the Jews, had a similar hope within them as it concerned the first coming of Jesus. In Matthew chapter 1 we read how an angel spoke to Joseph in a dream concerning the wonderful birth of Jesus Christ. The writer, Matthew, reminds us in verse 22 that: “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet.”
The prophet – which prophet? Well, the prophet Isaiah, of course! Centuries before Jesus’ birth Isaiah wrote: “Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel,” (Isaiah 7:14). Because of this, and other prophecies like it, the Jewish people had a hope within them concerning the coming of the promised Messiah, the Messiah who would save his people from their sin.
Sadly, as we now know, many of God’s people, the Jews, failed to recognise this Messiah when He came. This brings us back to our riddle. The truth of the promised Messiah was hidden from many, and not seen. Yet, trusting in what has been, we can be confident that Jesus Christ is coming again. We have this promise from Christ Himself, and the season of Advent reminds us that we should remain expectant (i.e., excited), for we do not know when that time will be.
ADVENT is, thus, a time full of HOPE – for Jesus has promised: “… I will come back and take you to be with me…” (John 14:3).
Our confidence, our hope, is founded (to some extent, at least) in the two names given to our Lord in Matthew chapter 1, verses 21 – 23. One is Jesus, and the other is Immanuel. The name Jesus, which means Saviour, describes His office (His purpose or job), (i.e., the reason for His coming). Jesus saves us from sin. Immanuel signifies that God is with us and, thus, describes Jesus’ nature, (i.e., who He is and the manner of His coming). Difficult though it is, we need to understand that there was, in the person of Jesus Christ, a union of two natures - the divine and the human. Jesus, our Saviour, could only become Jesus, our Saviour, because He became perfect man as well as perfect God, and perfect God as well as perfect man.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer simply, but helpfully, put it: “If Jesus Christ is not true God, how could He help us? If He is not true man, how could He help us?” This is the mystery of the incarnation and the basis of our hope - in the words of my favourite Christmas carol, written by Charles Wesley: “Our God contracted to a span, Incomprehensibly made man... And we the life of God shall know, For God is manifest below.” Hallelujah!