by Matthew C. Harrison
The prophet Zechariah lived after the great Babylonian Captivity and encouraged the people of God, pointing to the Christ to come. He also gave us one of our great Advent texts about the coming Christ.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zech. 9:9).
Advent means “coming.” In these weeks of December, we are humbled by the Law with themes of repentance. “Repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand!”—the first sermon out of John the Baptizer’s mouth and that of Jesus (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). We are reminded that Christ came as a babe in Bethlehem, born as God and man to go from cradle to cross. Christ continues to come to us in His blessed Word (Rom. 10:17) and in absolution (John 20:21f.), Baptism (Gal. 3:27) and the Supper (1 Cor. 10:16–17). And Christ will come again at the resurrection. “I will come again and take you to myself” (John 14:3). Thus, Advent looks to the past, the present and to the future with hope!
Another line from Zechariah strikes me: “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double” (Zech. 9:12). Because this world is closer to its end, this word of hope is more precious today than it was in 520 B.C. Despite this wretched world, the economic malaise, the political nonsense, the global conflict, the ubiquitous threat of Islam, the decline of the Church in the West, the shocking reality that our government now calls evil what the Bible calls good and calls good what the Bible calls evil, despite it all, I remain a “prisoner of hope.” I am chained to an ultimate, optimistic future! I am captive to the hope of Christ.
The Bible said it would be so. “The Gentiles will hope in His [Christ’s!] name” (Matt. 12:21). Christians are people of hope. Hope is rooted deep in the ancient promises of the Old Testament. Hope fills the Psalms (e.g., Ps. 130:7; 119:49), which time and again refer us to the mighty deeds of the Lord as anchors for the steadfast truth of His promises, come what may.
The New Testament explodes in hopefulness. Through Christ, we have “access by faith into this grace,” and so “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). Trials produce endurance, character and hope, “and hope does not put us to shame” (Rom. 5:4–5). Yes, the whole creation creaks and cracks under the burden of sin, but it is all for a hopeful purpose (Rom. 8:8). Faith is certainty in Christ’s promises, though unseen, and thus faith is also hope, and that means hope brings patience (Rom. 8:24–25). Because we know the end of the story and its certain, resurrected life with Christ, “through the encouragement of the Scriptures, we . . . have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
Are you hopeless? Bury yourself in the Scriptures! Paul reminded the Romans that the Scriptures promised that “the root of Jesse will come . . . In him the Gentiles will hope!” (Rom. 15:12). And this blessing is as powerful today as when Paul wrote it: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13).
We know that eternity is ours; we have nothing but eternal life ahead. Each of us has a vocation, a calling, and a Christian calling at that—a special purpose assigned us by God in this life to serve and love those around us. Peter gives us a mandate to speak of Christ in our vocations: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). You have Christ for you, and “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
So, don’t “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13), as you face death and trials of this life. This Advent, come what may, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).
O Lord, at Thy coming, make us, keep us, find us “prisoners of hope.”
Pastor Matthew C. Harrison is president of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.
The cover story featured in the December 2015 The Lutheran Witness — titled “Gaudete Sunday: Breaking the Rules” — is translated in Spanish for congregational use. Read story