What is it that you are eagerly awaiting as we come into Christmas. I expect that if you are a 5 year old then it is the promise of a present 3x the size of you! Maybe some of us are looking forward to the promise of a few days off, food, music, a party atmosphere. And if those things are what matters then for a lot of us, there will be the disappointment of extinguished promises this Christmas.
However, the big thing that people usually say they look forward to is time together with family. Often you will hear them express such sentiments as “it’s about the children really isn’t it.” As we get older and have sons, daughter, grandchildren, nieces and nephews (honouree as well as actual) it is delight in their eyes we look forward to on Christmas Day. I suspect this year, that for many people their balance of emotions will be based on whether COVID guidance is allowing them to see loved ones or whether that hope has been cruelly snatched away from them.
Well, here we are on our penultimate promise, there is one more to come after Christmas but today’s demonstrates that Christmas really is all about children. Specifically, it is about one child, a son.
Our main text is Hosea 11:1
“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.”
You might recognise it as the words used by Matthew following the visit of the wisemen. Joseph was warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus to safety because Herod was going to try and kill the baby. So, they headed off to Egypt. Then when Herod dies, they return and Matthew says “This fulfils…” or in more down to earth modern parlance “Oh that reminds me of …” and then he draws our attention to Hosea 11:1.
So, what are you hoping for, what are the promises you are trusting in? I guess for a lot of us we are hoping that the promise of a vaccine and mass testing will bring an end to COVID. Some of us will be hoping that the final Brexit outcome will restore pride to our nation (and I know others will be dreading it). In the US, people are hoping that a new president will bring renewal although many others had looked to the outgoing man to make America Great Again.
I want to say up front today that I our trust is in any of those promises we are likely to be let down. The one hope, the one promise that matters is the one wrapped up in the birth of a son, 2000 years ago and celebrated at about this time each year since.
What I want to do here is to work through the text to help us get a fuller sense of how it applies to us. I’m going to use the method we used to use at Sunday Night Church. We are going to see what the passage says, dig a little deeper into its meaning and then we are going to see what it has to say to us.
A look at the Text
The wider context in Hosea is that God calls this prophet and tells him to do something that is going to be difficult and costly. He is to marry a prostitute called Gomer. The prostitute will have children, a son and two daughters. The daughters are to be called Lo-rohumah (not loved) and Lo-ami (not my people). The indication is clear that these are illegitimate children. The prostitute continues in her business and is unfaithful. This is meant to be a picture of how Israel has behaved towards God. Her idolatry is like prostitution and adultery, she has been unfaithful to God. Yet God chooses to love her faithfully. However, judgement must come and a people who have handed themselves over to other gods cannot at the same time claim to be God’s people, cannot presume upon his love
The imagery or metaphor is changed however when we get to chapter 11 from an unfaithful wife and unfaithful daughters to a promised and loved son. The son is of course representing Israel again. God presents himself as the loving Father.
God had rescued Israel from Egypt but instead of being grateful to God and loving him in response, they grumbled in the wilderness and quickly forgot God’s goodness. After Moses and Joshua died, they became forgetful and worshipped the Canaanite gods (v1-4)
Despite God’s pleading through the prophets, despite the symbolic reminders of festivals and songs and despite his Word being given to them (Deuteronomy 31), they refuse to turn back to God. This will lead to a new Egypt-like exile (v5-7)
And yet, God does not give up on his people (v8-9). He cannot because it would go against his character as the unchanging, faithful God who keeps his word. People might change their minds or give up, humans might let you down but God does not.
Rather, God will deliver them with the power of a roaring lion, he will lead them out of exile and restore their fortune (v10-11).
Digging a Little Deeper
So, what does this have to do with Jesus? This prophecy doesn’t seem immediately to be about him. Indeed, this doesn’t seem to be a prophecy at all if it is in the sense of a prediction. Rather, it is looking back and using metaphorical language to describe Israel’s history. Is Matthew just snatching at anything and trying to make it into a prediction of Jesus. Well no, because that would make him an unreliable witness.
Rather, the point is this. Matthew looks at the history of Israel and sees how the people had been like a rebellious son, a son that in fact according to the Law deserved death. Exile as death was a fitting judgement. Israel had failed as God’s Son. Israel was unfaithful.
But God acts in Jesus. If Israel’s history tells us that it was the failed and unfaithful son, well Jesus is the faithful and obedient son. So, in order to fulfil Scripture, what Jesus does is in effect steps into the footprints of Israel and relives or recapitulates its history but this time faithfully and obediently. Jesus will willingly cross the Jordan via baptism at the first ask, Jesus will not succumb to temptation in the wilderness. This obedience will take Jesus all the way to the Cross. He will die the death that Israel deserved and rise to life bringing resurrection for all in him.
But Jesus came not just to retrace Israel’s steps but yours and mine too. He is the saviour not just of one nation but of all who put their trust in him, Jew and Gentile, male and female, rich and poor. There is good news for each and every one of us.
A Look at ourselves
So, here we are back at the beginning and asking ourselves what this has to do with us and where we are going to find hope this Christmas time? Well, here is the reality, you cannot put your trust in vaccines. Not, I hasten to add because the conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxers are right (and please don’t get caught up in what is some very deceitful and dishonest propaganda which is serving the interests of others). I hope and am hopeful that the vaccine will help. I believe the virus can be controlled and subdued. But if this virus is defeated there will be other threats to follow and destabilise our world, new illnesses, more war and famine, climate change etc will bring other hardships. What is more, whilst the viruses highlighted the isolation and loneliness many face, it did not cause it and they won’t go away when lockdowns and tiers have gone away.
Presidents come and go and some do better than others but the old adage that all political careers eventually end in failure remains true. Donal Trump will let you down, Joe Biden will let you down,. Boris will let you down and so will Kier Starmer in the end. And so Brexit may offer hope in a national and worryingly maybe even a nationalist renewal. The same might apply to Scottish and Welsh independence. However, Brexit will not protect you from the harsh realities of the world. What is more, if you think the solution is to re-join remember there is a reason why people voted to leave -the 40 years membership itself ended with people let down and left behind. The EU like all other institutions is a human institution. It may bring many good things but it cannot fully protect, provide, save or heal.
And the reason all of these things and all these people fail is that they cannot and often are uninterested in dealing with the real problem, our sin and rebellion against God. Only Jesus can. Where we are like the disobedient son deserving judgement, Christ was the obedient son on our behalf. So, we need to put our trust in the promise, put our trust in the Son.
Faith in Christ will not give us an escape route out of the trials and challenges of this world and this life. However, we will have the security of knowing we are safe in his hands. Whatever happens to us, we know that we will always be loved because God will love us, always safe because even if we are in physical danger our eternal future is secure.
Put your trust in the Son today.