When Mary and Joseph carried the child Jesus into the temple in Jerusalem for the first time, the aged and holy Simeon took Him up in his arms and exclaimed, “my eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:30-32)! For most who are reading these words and celebrating Christmas in America, we are among the Gentiles who have received that “light of revelation.” We are the “all peoples” in distant lands to whom salvation has come. The coming of Jesus and His death and resurrection opened up a window of mercy for the nations of the earth – what the Scriptures call the “time of the Gentiles” (Lk 21:24). Yet this is not the whole story. Simeon was looking for “the consolation of Israel,” and he concluded his oracle by saying that his eyes had seen “the glory of Your people Israel” (Lk 2:25, 32). Anna, the elderly prophetess who would come upon the scene right after Simeon in the Gospel narrative, spoke of Jesus to “all those were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38, emphasis added).
What are we to make of this? Israel has not been consoled. Jerusalem has not been redeemed. And yet, Jesus was clearly the answer to these longings. Instead, as the piercing words of this timeless hymn so painfully remind us, Israel is actually in exile – the furthest thing from consolation and redemption. Just as when they were expelled from their land to Assyria and to Babylon in the days of the prophets, the Jewish people were once again led captive in 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed, and then in 135 AD when they were driven out by the Roman Empire. For nearly two-thousand years they lived among the nations of the earth, just as Deuteronomy had foretold so long ago:
“It shall come about that as the Lord delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the Lord will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it. Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known. Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life.” (Deut 28:63-66)
The establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 was a remarkable political miracle, but to this day, most Jewish people still live outside of this hotly contested piece of land. Moreover, they have not returned to the knowledge of God now found in the Lord Jesus, which was the premier indication of the end of their captivity according to the Pentateuch and the Prophets. As we ponder their forlorn plight, we must be wary of overtly or even subtly deriding the many Jewish people of today or of Jesus’ day for not recognizing His coming. We might be tempted to scoff at the naïve notion that Jesus was going to actually overthrow the powers that oppressed them and proclaim Himself the triumphant King in the city of Jerusalem, and then scratch our heads puzzled that they were so confused when things didn’t quite play out that way. Yet this is exactly what Jesus is going to do when He comes the second time, and precisely what the angel Gabriel told Mary before He took on flesh:
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Lk 1:31-33)
In this passage, “throne” means throne just as much as “Son” means Son and “great” means great. And “the house of Jacob” does not somehow mean “Gentile believers living in Oklahoma two-thousand years later.” Allow what is obvious to remain that way. This is not referring to us, and it isn’t happening right now. That means that another Day remains – a Day that Paul says will be as life from the dead for the whole earth (Rom 11:15), and a Day when these words (along with those of like kind that fill the prophetic writings) will be fulfilled, when Jerusalem will be redeemed and Israel will be consoled.
There are two primary facets to Advent – the celebration of the first coming of Jesus and the anticipation of His second coming. In a very broad sense, it is accurate to say that the Scriptures reveal that the primary result of His first coming was a partial judgment upon Israel and salvation to the nations, and the primary result of His second coming will be just the opposite – salvation for the Jewish people and judgment upon the nations. As we rightly remember and rejoice in the redemption we have experienced through Jesus this Christmas, let us allow the words of this hymn to awaken the hope of His second coming, when Israel’s long exile will end and they will receive their true Lord and Messiah according to the Scriptures. O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel we pray!
“So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lordyour God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.”(Deut 30:1-6)