In the video “The Wonder of Christmas” it was mentioned that God could be like a parent who ‘spoils the surprise’ of his good gifts to the world because God keeps on giving a lot of hints!
When you think about it, the whole of Scripture is one big hint from God! There are at least 300 hints in the Old Testament about God’s greatest gifts to the world of a whole new life of love and hope coming in his Sent One – his Messiah.
Here’s just one of those hints. It is from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 2;
There will be peace at last. No need to even make weapons or even train to kill or even win anymore! Music to their ears when God spoke these words.
At the time, Israel was a nation facing a very uncertain future. The relative prosperity and peace Israel and Judah experienced during the early 8th century BC are by this time a distant memory.
They are under threat of extinction, big time. The relentless advances of the Assyrian Empire have decimated the northern nation of Israel already. Many escaped and sought refuge within the southern kingdom of Judah and its capital city, Jerusalem. But the threat still comes south by way of a prolonged military siege on the city.
Can you imagine waking up every morning, looking out of your window down at the soldiers camp seeing the siege wall they are building getting a little bit higher, a little bit closer. Yours and the death of your family and friends, and an end to all you know and enjoy is closer now then when you went to sleep. How depressing and scary.
That is when the Lord speaks these words of seeming impossible hope. Isaiah announces he has received a vision concerning God’s perspective about Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1).
God’s community, God’s meeting place, God’s blessing and God’s right and just rule will be re-established. People will be able to gather together with him in peace and joy once again. No more threats of war. No need for swords, just growing good food to share.
What a hint! What a vision. What a hope in dire times; theirs then and ours now.
We can see the church as an institution diminishing, our place in our culture shifting right to the dismissed edges, our capacity to be what we once were as an institution in this town going.
As those Israelites must have in their city, we feel the effects of all of this. We want things to be the way they were, or we want to God to do something powerful that is irrefutable, as the siege wall of disrespect of and disbelief in God’s goodness and Christianity’s place gets higher and stronger.
Like those besieged Israelites, we might feel like our best days are behind us and all you know and the end of all you enjoy as a baptised child of God and part of a local church is closer now than when you went to sleep last night. We might feel that same depressing gloom about faith and church and St Petri and we might be pretty worried about the death of the church as we know it.
But hang on. God gives hints.
I wondered why God give so many hints to us – then and now? I thought about it. Why do you give a hint to someone you love of a good thing coming? Why do you give a hint to child about what that wrapped up present for him or her is under the tree?
First of all, it is just fun! To see the kids thinking and wondering and imagining is wonderful. And second, hints ‘tune them in’, heightens their sense of expectation and wakes them up to gift to be received.
Hints get people thinking about what is coming, about a new possibility, a new joy (hopefully – if the gift is well received). Hints of good things coming give light and hope on a dark rainy day.
God gave his hints for thousands of years and then it happened – Christmas. All the hints pointed to the GIFT – a whole new heaven and earth on earth among humans won by a human of divine origin for us.
But of course, what is the problem about hints? You can miss them!
Often, they are really subtle or lightning fast – just easy to miss – like the dad who is ‘Mr Negative pants’ at the dinner table who does not notice the kids or grandkids rolling their eyes as he launches into another verbal explanation of why the world is going to hell in a handbasket … or the young man who fails to notice the hints that lovely young woman is trying to give him that she really likes him… Or the partner of her man standing among friends at the cocktail party for the Prime Minister who is desperately trying to tell him that his fly is open! You can miss a hint. We can and do miss God’s hints.
God’s people often missed his hints through prophets, priests and kings – even donkeys occasionally! They so often rejected his vision for them. They preferred their vision of themselves.
We are the same. We as a Western culture are ignoring God’s hints with great skill these days. God is almost completely removed from this season celebrating the greatest ‘hint’ of God’s kind intentions for his world ever given to the world! Christmas in the West is almost unrecognizable as a celebration of God loving the world, entering the world, saving the world, bringing his lasting peace and ending of hostilities between people and between people and himself.
Now we have an alternative story with an alternative person, songs, symbols and customs that has grown, and most people buy it all.
The alternative story is not the real story, and we know it. It brings nothing lasting or new to what worries us, hurts us, disturbs us and kills us.
Friends, we could not win over this siege of unbelief and fear and fighting and dying. But he could and did and does. We could not keep the flood waters from breaching the levy and washing everything away out of reach, but God reached to us and made us knew in the flood of baptism.
So, now we hear our Teacher and Judge and Lord of Light and hope giving us more hints. To his troubled friends that the plan is on schedule and all that is promised will be – all the hints will be fulfilled and there is hope in all of it until then
Don’t give up even when you see the siege wall getting closer and the flood waters seeming to breach.
That is his hint today for you and me. You don’t know when, but this Saviour King of the cow shed and the shepherds and the cross and the tomb will deliver all his gifts in full. You can bank on it.
This church community we love may be very different. We may not have the same capacities, strengths, looks, abilities and place in organisational or institutional terms, but we have this Saviour and his promises and his power and his good news that never fades or flies away or diminishes as long as he gifts it and we carry it together. He is our hope in everything and we are each other’s hope in him.
Will you take the hint? Can we take the hint today from the God who takes the worries, hurts and disturbing things from us as he is killed for us and gives us his new life in exchange – as he gives us his great gift?
IT WILL HAPPEN. The Son of man WILL come.
Be awake for him, ready for him, attuned to him as much as a home-owner who is ever vigilant for the possibility of someone trying to break in to his house. Watch for it. Stay awake in it. Live it and trust me for it, says Jesus
And what does this Jesus hint of hope say to us today?
Our salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; (when we were baptised into his love and peace community).
Our best days are not behind us and our defeat and destruction and disunity as his people is not closer today than when we went to bed last night.
God’s Saving love and hope is closer to us today than it was when we went to bed last night!
Friend, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers
This is our hope. He is our hope and he is coming. Take the hint. Share the hint.