In 1969, Mick Jagger penned the following profound words: “Take me to the station and put me on a train; I’ve got no expectations to pass through here again.” These lyrics from the Stones, jointly entitled “No Expectations,” express the exact opposite of the sentiment surrounding the Advent season. Contra Mick Jagger, this season in the life of the Church is shot through with expectation as we reflect on the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament itself, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, develops this very expectation. From Genesis 3:15 onward, we’re left wondering how God will keep His promise to bring One who would crush the serpent’s head and save the people from sin and its effects. We get a taste of it in Deuteronomy 18, wherein Moses says that a prophet greater than him will come along. We then move through Israel’s story after Moses, with a quick pit-stop in 2 Samuel 7 to hear that God will establish from David’s line an Eternal Kingship. And the prophet Isaiah writes of One who will be conceived by a virgin who will be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, and Mighty God (among other things). Isaiah says this One, this God, will be “smitten for our afflictions;” He will literally die in our place.
“Why is this important?” we might ask. Why, during this Advent season, must we rehearse the Old Testament story of the nation of Israel? Well, I suppose the short answer is that the kids to whom we minister grow up in a society bathed in postmodernism, which teaches that they are the ultimate masters of their souls, the captains of their fates. As Sartre says, “Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.” Our students (and we, ourselves) are tempted to find our own meaning and authority within ourselves, but what the Old Testament story — as it culminates in Christ — teaches our kids (and us) is that there is a God who works in this world, and who brings things to pass for the good of His people. And yet, all this happens within a certain structure in which God, the Good King, brings us back to Himself.
All of these very explicit prophecies contribute to the feeling of anticipation which characterizes the Advent season. That said, the New Testament writers, and Matthew in particular, see much more expectation in the Old Testament than even we tend to during this season of the year. According to Matthew, one of the first moves Joseph, Mary, and Jesus make is to leave the country and head for Egypt. They stay there until Herod dies, and then they head back to their homeland. All of this had to happen, Matthew says, so that the Lord’s Old Testament word to Hosea might be fulfilled: “Out of Egypt, I have called my son.”
Now, if we turn to Hosea 11:1, we see that this isn’t a direct prophecy like, say, Isaiah 53 is. What we will see, though, is a reference to the Exodus and to God’s loving deliverance of His people from slavery and bondage. What Matthew is doing here, is comparing Christ’s advent with the Exodus itself. In fact, what Matthew sees, though not a direct prophecy, is a sort of mold or lens through which God’s people can view Christ’s first advent. This first coming not only follows the form of the Exodus in that it is God’s deliverance of His people, but rather just as the Levitical sacrifices were patterned after Christ’s eventual sacrifice (Heb. 9:23ff), so the Exodus is patterned after Christ’s eventual deliverance of His people.
Matthew tells us that Mary was to bear a son, and that she was to name Him Jesus for a very specific reason: because “he will save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). That name takes on a new meaning when Matthew shows us that Jesus Himself is the true and final exodus — for out of Egypt God called and brought Israel, and in Christ, God is bringing and calling us out of a much more dire bondange to sin and death. We see throughout the Old Testament that while God, in His power and mercy, brought Israel out of a terrible, oppressive situation in Egypt — physical slavery — she is still very much under spiritual bondage to her own sin.
Almost immediately following God’s show of provision in the Exodus, the people suspect Moses has brought them out of Egypt to die. Even though they’re free, they worry they will starve. Indeed, at least they had food in Egypt (Ex. 16:3). What’s more, the Israelites learn nothing from the Manna episode, and when Moses leaves for a time to commune with God on Mt. Sinai, they build a new god and begin worshipping it! At this point, the Exodus is in a sense incomplete. God has brought them out of physical slavery, but the people are still very much in spiritual slavery. It’s telling that Moses, under the inspiration of the Spirit, takes only a few chapters to get Israel out of Egypt, but three-and-a-half books to get Egypt out of Israel.
Throughout the biblical story, the Exodus is the primary example used to refer to God’s salvation of His people. Even in Hosea 11, the Exodus is the guarantee of God’s love for His people. It’s the action that confirms His words to them. However, no amount of physical deliverance will fix Israel’s spiritual problem.
God goes on to say, in Hosea 11:2, “The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.” However, when Matthew says Jesus fulfilled this verse, he is saying that finally, true deliverance has come. Spiritual deliverance from man’s most dire problem, his sin and its effects, has come. New Testament scholar Richard Hays says, regarding this verse, that Jesus now carries forth the destiny of Israel, the rescue of God’s people, which was foreshadowed in the Exodus and is confirmed in Jesus’s resurrection.
Matthew, in bringing Hosea 11:1 to the front of our minds, brings a joyful expectancy to God’s people. He tells us that just as God delivered His people physically from Egypt, He is delivering them spiritually through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You see, the Old Testament has a profound meaning for us as youth ministers and for our students. The Old Testament, and Hosea 11:1 in particular, shows us that God is a God who keeps His promises. He is a Good King, and a trustworthy authority (more so than our own selves). It is important for our students to know that God has been working in the world since the moment He created it, and that in Christ and through the Holy Spirit He continues to work in it even today.
God has a history of refusing to let His Creation go to waste, so even in the midst of ugly divorces, failed relationships, and college rejection letters, God is working. Our students might feel exiled in their own personal Egypts. In fact, we might even feel that way. And yet, God is not only a God who calls His people out of Egypt, He is the One who brings them out also. As we find ourselves in this season of expectation, let us keep in mind that unlike Mick Jagger, Jesus Christ has sure and certain expectations to pass through here again to finally make all things new.