Oh Come, Emmanuel!
As I was finishing up my reading of the Book of Romans this morning, I came across this verse written by Paul: "The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope" (Romans 15:12). It's Paul's paraphrase of Isaiah 11:1 which says: "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord" (11:1-3a).
In his letter to the Romans, Paul wanted to remind the Gentiles of the privilege that was theirs to be part of God's family because of Jesus Christ. Before he quotes the prophet, he writes: "For I tell you that Christ became a servant of the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy" (Romans 15:8, 9). There was hope for them because of Jesus.
This whole idea of hope for the hopeless spoke to me this morning as I caught a news clip about a person who had been killed because of a driver under the influence. Just before that announcement had come a comment about the possibility of bars being allowed to stay open until 4:00 a.m. as opposed to the current 2:00 a.m. closures. I wondered why someone hadn't connected the dots between the two.
We are a society without hope. And somehow we have in our minds that to drown or mute the voice that reminds us that we are hopeless will help. We don't really care who gets hurt as long as we don't have to respond to that voice, as long as the pain of our hopelessness is dulled.
And we call it fun, diversion, distraction, even celebration.
We don't know how empty we really are as a society, and as individuals within that society.
Paul speaks to the Gentiles like someone would speak to a hungry kid with his nose pressed against the bakery window. He tells them that from old, from the days of the prophets, God promised that they would be allowed "into the bakery to enjoy the cinnamon rolls" as it were. He assures them that the mercy of God is for them too, that the Messiah will satisfy their every longing, that He will fill them, that there is forgiveness and inclusion for them as well as for the Jews.
There is hope. There is mercy. There is satisfaction. It doesn't come in a bottle or a joint. The pain is relieved in Jesus. The celebration happens, not in an all-nighter in a bar, but in quiet communion and corporate worship.
He came to fill what nothing, and no one, could fill. He came to relieve the hunger of the soul, the thirst of the spirit, the hopelessness of the mind. He is Who the prophets promised. Celebrate Him.