There are many promises throughout the Bible.
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:8)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
In our best moments, these verses likely come as a source of deep comfort. When we’re in the middle of difficult times though, having these verses offered as solutions to our problems can be frustrating or even annoying. Does losing a job seem like a plan to prosper us? Do illnesses, failed classes, divorces, cruel bosses, or financial ruin seem like giving us a hope and a future? There are times when God’s promises feel more like lies than truth.
Isaiah was the prophet who spoke to King Ahaz when his country of Judah was in a messy situation, being attacked by various kingdoms. But instead of listening to Isaiah’s words from God and trusting God to provide, he took matters into his own hands. Ahaz used money set aside apart for God to strike a deal with another nation, even though he had specifically been told not to. His disobedience and lack of trust put in motion the events that would eventually lead to the nation of Judah being exiled.
It’s easy to scoff at King Ahaz for not believing God would come through, but one of the things that’s difficult for me about the Bible is that all the stories are so close together. We read the story of Isaiah prophesying to King Ahaz about a baby who will set everything right, and we flip a few hundred pages later and read the story of the baby’s arrival. What we miss is all those years in between, when the world seemed to be crumbling and God seemed to be silent. Anyone who originally heard the prophecy, or heard about it from a family member or friend, was long dead by the time the prophecy was fulfilled. Entire generations lived and died in the 700 years between when Isaiah foretold the baby's coming and when the baby was actually born.
But just because the people couldn’t see it doesn’t mean God wasn’t working.
In the Christmas story we find the hope of God’s kept promises, despite what we may be seeing or feeling in our own lives right now. We might feel forsaken, or like God’s plans are actually harming us, or that he’s completely ignoring the desires of our heart despite our delighting in him. There is nothing easy or simple about feeling that way, and we don’t have to pretend like we’re not—God is big enough to handle our frustrations and angst about what’s happening in our lives. At the same time, we can trust his promises. They may not come true in any way we can see today or tomorrow or thirty years from now, but his vision extends far beyond the span of our lives. Henri Nouwen once wrote, “Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according the promises and not just according to our wishes. Hope is always open-ended.”
The same God who sent his own son as the fulfillment of a 700-year-old promise is working now to fulfill the promises he’s made to us in his word. While not a traditional Christmas song, the words to Elevation Worship’s “Your Promises” are so fitting:
Doesn’t matter what I feel
Doesn’t matter what I see
My hope will always be
In your promises to me
In whatever situations we find ourselves in this Christmas season, may the story of God’s kept promises provide hope we can cling to when we need it most, and eyes to see the ways he is already at work.