“It’s the most package-ful time of the year!” Delivery vans abound in our little suburban neighborhood, rushing to fulfill the orders of list-checking online shoppers. Even though we live in one of the retail capitals of the world, I still do most of my shopping online – it’s quieter, cheaper, and also I get packages.
When I see that Amazon delivery van pull up (or lately just some random person in a car – it’s like ‘Uber Amazon’ or something?) I can barely contain my excitement. Even though I always know exactly what’s inside that box (and it’s rarely for me), I still feel like a kid opening a present!
Another reason I look forward to December every year is the opportunity to push pause on whatever book of the Bible I’ve been studying and focus for a few weeks on the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth. No matter how many times I’ve read these passages, I always open them up to find something new!
This year as I was looking over the opening chapters of Matthew, I couldn’t help but notice Matthew’s pattern of pointing out how the events he was describing had been predicted hundreds of years before. Matthew knew that to his Jewish audience, “what the Lord had spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 1:22) in the past carried great weight, so he made sure to point out that these events were the fulfillment of those promises.
But after spending the majority of this year in the book of Isaiah, I wondered why God gave these prophecies in the first place. Was it to prove His supernatural future-seeing power? Was it so people would see the fulfillment and trust Him as a result? Maybe. But in my research I found it was less about the proof and more about the anticipation the prophecies generated in the hearts of God’s people.
Anticipation keeps us watching. Anticipation gives us a reason to keep waiting when nothing seems to be happening. The prophecy referred to in Matthew 1:22 is found in Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”. This was a promise of hope to a struggling people – not only could they look in the past and see their God’s faithfulness to them, they could be on the lookout for His saving, in-the-flesh presence to come to them in the future.
This promise is quickly followed by a warning in the next chapter as the Lord commands Isaiah “not to walk in the way of this people” by giving in to fear (Isaiah 8:11). Though a promise from God can inspire great anticipation in a human heart, it can also lead to great disappointment when not fulfilled on our envisioned timeline. Verse 19 specifically warns against a temptation God’s people (still) face – to expedite the fulfillment process by going to other sources for answers.
But Isaiah declares:
“I will wait for the LORD,
who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob,
and I will hope in him.” (8:17)
In our technology-driven world, delivery dates are guaranteed and every package can be tracked. Waiting and watching aren’t necessary with free two-day shipping and apps that put everything we want to know in the palm of our hand. I don’t even have to listen for a knock at the door anymore because Amazon sends me an immediate notification that my order has been delivered – complete with photo proof!
When Isaiah and the people of Israel heard the prophecies about the Messiah, they had no idea when, how, or what the fulfillment of them would look like. But maybe God didn’t give them specifics because He wanted them to keep anticipating – He wanted them to actively wait. As they sought Him for direction and answers, keeping their attention on Him, they would be more likely to recognize when the ‘package’ was delivered!
As believers today, we put high expectations on the promises of God. We know that we’re not guaranteed a happy or easy life, but we do believe we’ll see His work in our lives. It’s in His very nature to redeem, so we expect to see Him redeem our mistakes. It’s in His nature to heal, so we expect to feel His healing touch in the areas where we’re broken. It’s been His plan from the beginning to use people as conduits of His power, so we expect Him to use us in noticeable ways in the lives of others.
This anticipation is a good thing! It’s on purpose because it keeps us aware. It keeps us on the lookout for what God might be doing. There are no tracking numbers or delivery dates – He doesn’t need to have it all done by Christmas or wrapped up by the end of the year. In fact, we may never see the fulfillment of these things in our lifetime! But who knows? Maybe the delivery truck is right around the corner 😉