Pastor Terry Inman
There’s a biblical proverb that describes a very profound human longing. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13.12 (NIV) A Longing is a deferred hope for change.
I was in Israel in the early nineties with a small group of Pastors. We were the guests of the Israeli department of tourism. I will never forget sitting around a long table in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. A bright young woman was telling us about the hotel, and its amenities. She was encouraging us to lead Christian tours to the Holy Land.
In the middle of her presentation someone walked in the room apologized and whispered something in her ear. It was obviously very bad news. Our host tried to keep her composure but it was just too much to bear.
Choking back the tears she informed us that her brother had just been wounded in a border scrimmage near the disputed Gaza territory. She said we are so sick of this conflict. I don’t know how long this has to go on.
A longing can be created by both time and circumstances. A longing is an emotional measurement that we would prefer to shorten. You might even call it the anxiety of anticipation. It’s how kids feel about unopened gifts.
King David who inspired the name of the four star hotel we were visiting lamented “how long” numerous times in his psalms. In Psalms 6.3 he complains, “My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?”
In chapter 13.1 “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Have you ever felt that way?
These were the sentiments of our Israeli host. She was longing for a cessation of the costly conflict. Hope deferred makes the heart, sick!
After telling her I was so sorry about this heartbreaking tragedy I asked if we could pray for her. Right then it didn’t matter that we were Christians and she was Jewish. She said she would appreciate the prayer. Later as we were leaving she personally expressed her gratitude to me.
That’s when I believe the Lord gave me wisdom. I said, “Your faith tradition is awaiting your Messiah. We believe he came to die for us and we are anticipating His return. But what’s important is that we are both longing for the Messiah. She smiled and hope filled her face.
Christmas was a long time coming for the ancient world on other side of the Christmas calendar, B.C. before Christ. This lingering desire maybe even despair is, “The Longing”. It’s a yearning, an itching, maybe even an aching deep in the soul in anticipation of a preferred outcome.
The players in our Christmas Tale repeated the hope of the advent carol. “O Come O come Immanuel”, is a pleading 8th century Gregorian chant. Its lyrics are inspired by a prophetic hint of hope in scripture. The Christ of Christmas was destined to come and change our world.
Isaiah the ancient biblical prophet was advising the Ahaz the King of Judah on national security matters when He foretold the miracle of the first Christmas and created over seven millenniums of anticipation.
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. Isa. 7.14
The carol based on this verse is playing in the malls again this Christmas but you can totally miss it’s meaning unless you let yourself feel it.
“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here.
Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”
When the Prophet Isaiah first introduced “Immanuel” he was encouraging King Ahaz to put his trust in God and not fear the threatened invasion by neighboring nations.
He told him to look for a “sign”. A young woman in the household would give birth to a son named Immanuel (with us is God) Before the child was weaned Judah’s enemies would be defeated.
This happened just as forecast in 722 B.C. Judah’s foes were foiled. But like many prophecies this one looked way beyond the immediate geo-political events to the first advent of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Over 700 years after Isaiah’s visionary birth announcement, Matthew a former tax collector references this historical prophecy. He claims it is confirmation that the baby born in Bethlehem to a young virgin named Mary is the promised, “Immanuel” God with us! He is God in the flesh!
Matthew’s familiar story features a young virgin, Mary, who is engaged to a carpenter named Joseph. To Joseph’s chagrin she mysteriously becomes an expectant mother. Matthew says, “she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit”. We call this the virgin birth.
There were miraculous pregnancies before, like Abraham and Sara who started a family in their eighties. Zachariah the priest was on Medicare when he and Elizabeth had John the Baptist. But Mary’s baby boy had no human father. This was God’s son born to a woman, both God and Man.
This isn’t exactly what Joseph was longing for. Being a kind man he didn’t want to expose her so he considered a discreet breakup. But in a dream an angel of the Lord, assured him of his destiny.
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1.20-21 (NIV)
Then Matthew who writes his gospel primarily for Jewish ears makes the connection to the ancient prophecy. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1.22-23 (NIV)
That first Christmas, “The Longing” was being satisfied. The prophet Isaiah also described the Savior’s role. He talked about a light coming to the shores of Galilee where there was much darkness, doom and gloom.
There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Isa. 9.1- 2 (NIV)
Isaiah also promises and end to oppression. He foresees an eternal era of peace and prosperity. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. Isa. 9.6-7 (NIV)
It was difficult then and now for Jesus’ own race to understand the timing of His first advent and His second. He was born to die. In order to be the long anticipated liberator. He came and die for the sins of all humanity.
Right up to His crucifixion his own disciples were still struggling with a political longing. They hoped he would conquer their oppressors and impose a political kingdom. But he came to first conquer sin and satan and set us free to love God and each other. His kingdom is within us!
We wait, we long we ache for the time of His second advent. The last word of the bible at the end of the book of Revelation says, “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” To which John the author says, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” Rev. 22.20 (NIV)
We long for the day when there are no more wars, terrorists, and fiscal cliffs. We long for a restoration of morality and justice. We long to see abortion, addiction, and perversion come to and end. We long for the Bethlehem promise of “peace and earth and good will toward men”.
It is human to long for better things, a better paying job, a decent roof over our head, a newer car, an IPhone 5! But our material and even emotional longings will never completely satisfy us. In fact these longings can shield from our deepest spiritual longing.
Recognize it or not, “The Longing” for God, and His personal presence in our lives is really our deepest hunger. Pascal, the French philosopher and physicist of the 17th century said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus”
King David expressed His longing, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalms 63.1 (NIV)
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.” Matthew 5.6 (NIV)
Our unrecognized but most profound longing is our “soul hunger”. We need to connect with our creator. God knew we needed Him. He knew only He could repair the breach created by man’s sin. He sent us His son the Lord Jesus Christ. Immanuel (God with us)
Jesus came to fulfill the death sentence on our heads. It was a cruel, Roman cross that satisfied justice. We are the guilty ones but he took our sentence. He paid the price for our peace with God.
Romans 3.22-23 in the Message says, “Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us.
Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.”
In the eighteenth century Charles Wesley who wrote so many of our great hymns of faith penned this advent carol. It expresses “The Longing”.
Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.
Would you like to satisfy your longing for God today? Let’s invite the spirit of Jesus Christ to live and rule in our hearts our souls today. Repeat with me a simple prayer of invitation to make your heart Christ’s home.