As we prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus at Christmas let us look at what the Old Testament says about the long-awaited Messiah that God had promised to the Jews.
PREPARING FOR CHRISTMAS
Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, is a time when we in the Church prepare ourselves and look forward to the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Our preparations these days are very different to those of the people of Israel who for centuries longed for their coming Messiah. They knew from the Scriptures that God had promised to send Israel a Saviour who would be a great king and whose rule would last forever but they didn’t know when he would come.
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS MORNING
So, on that first Christmas morning when Jesus was born in a humble dirty cave being used as a stable, surrounded by animals there was no fanfare of courtiers to herald the new king. Only the angels sang to greet the new born baby. God delights in revealing himself to the poor and his first visitors were lowly shepherds, some of the poorest people in Israel. While the world was asleep the shepherds were awake, watching and waiting. Later the kings would come, the rich people bringing expensive gifts signifying that Jesus came to save all people, both the rich and the poor.
THE PROMISED MESSIAH
The Jews were expecting a Messiah, they knew the prophecies but unfortunately they had not interpreted them correctly. At that time they were a persecuted people, living under Roman rule and they were expecting their Saviour to be a warrior who would get rid of the Romans from their land and assume the role as their king. They did not understand what God was trying to tell them. Let us look at some of the prophecies that can be found in the Old Testament that point to the coming of Jesus.
FROM THE TRIBE OF JUDAH
In Genesis 49:10, which was written over one thousand years before Christ was born, Jacob, on his deathbed addresses each of his sons, blessing them and revealing to them what will happen in the future. When he comes to Judah, his fourth son, he reveals that one of his descendants will rule over the nations saying, “ The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.” In the New Testament in Matthew 1:1-16 the family tree of Jesus is listed and this includes Judah as a forefather of Jesus.
BORN IN BETHLEHEM
Micah was a prophet who lived over 700 years before Christ was born. He prophesied, “You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2). Bethlehem, also called Ephrathah, was a small town in Israel. Luke Chapter 2 describes how Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem (the home town for those descended from the tribe of Judah) for a census, where Jesus was born. In Hebrew Bethlehem means, “House of Bread”, a fitting name for the birthplace of the one who later said, “I am the bread of life” and who comes to us in the Eucharist in the form of bread and wine.
GOD WITH US
God spoke through Isaiah, another prophet who lived around the same time as Micah, saying, “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) This follows a passage where God asks King Ahaz to request a sign from him but Ahaz refuses saying that he will not put God to the test. This makes God angry and he says that he will provide a sign anyway. Immanuel means ‘God with us’ and this prophecy was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary seven hundred years later, a sign to all mankind of God’s love and care for his people.
HE WILL RULE FOR EVER
God revealed to his people, “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” (Jeremiah 23:5) Jesus will be their saviour and he will rule over God’s Kingdom, an eternal kingdom that will never end. “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” (Daniel 2: 44) Jesus’ reign will last forever. Only God Almighty can fulfil this claim.
RIGHTEOUS AND VICTORIOUS
Other Old Testament prophecies include, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9) God is promising Israel a king who will be righteous and will win victory for Israel but this is not the normal vision of a great king. This king will be lowly and will ride on a donkey, a prophecy that was fulfilled on Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on the way to his crucifixion.
BY HIS WOUNDS WE ARE HEALED
The Messiah who was to come would not save the Jews from the Romans. In the great scheme of things that was unimportant, no, Jesus would save the people from their sins. This was the important message that God was trying to give to his people. That Jesus would redeem them by bearing their sins on himself and take them to the grave. He would suffer for them so that they could be saved “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5-6) Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we are saved. This is the real message of Christmas, that it is only the beginning of God’s divine plan for each one of us so let us celebrate and thank God for the gift of his Son, our Saviour.
“Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2: 6-8