Anticipate Joy


Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9 and Matthew 1:1-17


            Anticipation is that feeling of looking forward to something so much that it almost hurts.  We have all experienced various degrees of anticipation throughout our lives.  As a kid, I can remember the anticipation for Christmas—not because I was looking forward to celebrating Christ’s birth, but instead because I was looking forward to what I would unwrap under the tree (not the ideal way to anticipate Christmas—but anticipation just the same!).  Because I have always loved to travel, some of my greatest anticipation has been around trips—I can remember my excitement of looking forward to a trip to the Amazon jungle during high school and the anticipation—and fear—of moving to India shortly after Joy and I graduated from seminary.  Sometimes anticipation is so strong that the feeling is almost overwhelming.  Thankfully, most of the anticipation that I have known has had a clear date attached to it.  Every year, I could be fairly certain that Christmas would fall on December 25th and each of my trips has had a clear departure date that I could look forward to.  But, what happens when anticipation has no clear time for fulfillment?  How do we respond when the joy we are looking for seems to be just out of reach, when we can envision it, but the reality continues to elude us? 

Have you ever experienced that sort of anticipation? 

For the Old Testament prophets and people of God, anticipation was a way of life; it was the reality of their world.  They know that God was going to come and set things right.  They knew that one day the Messiah would come, but they did not know what day that would be.  They knew that God was going to do mighty things, but what and when and how were questions that were beyond their reach.  The book of Hebrews explains the Old Testament anticipation in this way (11:13-16):

13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

            God is excited about people of anticipation, because anticipation shows a faith in God that has not dimmed.  It shows a trust that God is going to do what God has promised, even if we do not know what the time frame looks like. So, we see Isaiah in our first reading for today offering up a prayer of anticipation and longing for that day when God was going to be present with the people of God.  Listen for the longing in these words (64:1-2):

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,

so that the mountains would quake at your presence—

2 as when fire kindles brushwood

and the fire causes water to boil—

to make your name known to your adversaries,

so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

Isaiah is looking and waiting for God to be present.  He is longing for the coming of God.  He is aching to see God come down and do a mighty work among the people of Israel.  But Isaiah also recognizes that the anticipation is part of the way God works, because anticipation and expectation are how we express our faith that God is truly going to come through.  He makes it clear in verse 4 that seeing God at work is always going to involve waiting: 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.  Waiting for God is not just a matter of sitting back by the fire in the recliner and waiting for something to happen.  Instead, anticipating God’s work and waiting for God is done exactly the way Isaiah is doing it—it is done through prayer and living for God.  Those who are truly waiting for God to work—waiting in anticipation—are constantly on their knees and constantly reflecting the love of God in their lives.  Luke tells us about two such people (2:25-38):

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,

according to your word;

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,

31      which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

            That is what it means to anticipate joy—to be living in the temple seeking God and the messiah—to know that one day—we may not know when that day will come—but one day the messiah will come and he will bring the power of God to earth and begin the reign of God in this place.  That is what many in the Old Testament were anticipating:  Christ coming.

            I wish we knew more about Simeon and Anna because they paint an incredible picture of anticipating Joy.  Simeon’s song of praise is one of the most joy-filled passages in scripture because it shows his depth of yearning and longing to see Jesus’ birth.  Simeon didn’t need to live through Jesus’ ministry and see exactly how God was going to work through Jesus to begin God’s work of restoring the world.  Simply seeing Jesus the infant was enough.  He declares:

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,

according to your word; -He is basically saying, “ok, I can die now!”

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,

31      which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.”

            That is joy fulfilled!

Our Gospel in Matthew gives us 42 generations of anticipation (1:17) from the beginning of the people of Israel with Abraham down to Jesus’ adoptive father Joseph.  42 generations looking for God to draw near…and then…all of a sudden, it happens.  Christ the Savior is born.  It doesn’t happen quite the way Isaiah was envisioning it—with God tearing open the heavens and the mountains quaking at God’s presence—instead God came down in weakness and vulnerability as a helpless baby who was totally dependent on those around him to care for him.

            After 42 generations, Joy came.  Jesus was born.  The angels sang and the prophets celebrated on that first Christmas day.  The shepherds proclaimed the good news and the magi arrived from a distant land.  That first Christmas morning was the culmination of 42 generations of anticipation.

            The reason I wanted us to read from Matthew 1 this morning is to help us get a feel for what 42 generations of anticipation looks like.  Even reading 42 names can get to be a bit tedious and we may struggle to stay focused on the 17 verses that we heard this morning.  But each of those 42 names represents a life—a life that was part of the family tree through which God brought Jesus into the world.  Each of those lives was a woman or man who was looking for God to come near and be present in their day and their time.  Each of those 42 names represents hopes and fears and lives lived looking for—but never seeing—the day that Simeon was so overjoyed as to see. 

            There are 42 stories here. I asked you to be listening for names that were familiar.


Which names did you hear that were familiar to you?


Do you remember their story?


How do you think they were living in anticipation?


[Check out the reading at and think about the stories you know…or Google some names to see what you find!]


It is amazing to think that all of those men and women and many, many more were living in anticipation of something that we take for granted—God sending Jesus to earth to walk with us and eat with us, to share our joy and our pain, to live with us and die for us.  What they longed to see; what they eagerly anticipated and in many cases never saw—that is the reality that we know. 

As Hebrews tells us, “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them (Heb 11:13).”  My friends, we are not at a distance.  We know the reality of Emmanuel—God with us.  My hope for you and for me, for our friends and our families this Advent and Christmas is that we will find the wonder and the joy of Christ’s coming again.  I want us to encounter the anticipation and the excitement of Christmas—not looking forward to unwrapping a gift, but being filled with the joy of the event that literally divides history—BC and AD.  As we celebrate Advent and prepare for Christmas and worship together, my prayer for you is that you would have a depth of joy during this season that is unlike anything you have ever known.  That is my hope and prayer for this season—Joy for the world, and Joy for you.

We all see the bad that goes on around us.  We know the struggles of life.  I know that you have struggles in your families, in your work or in your inability to find work.  You have struggles with your friends and finances, struggles enough to leave you with a cloud over your head, but in the face of those struggles I hope you can see Joy that is greater than any struggle; hope that overcomes any despair and light that pierces any darkness.  That is the joy of Christmas; a joy that we need now as much as ever.  That joy is my Christmas wish and my Christmas prayer for you.  Joy to the world.  And Joy to you.  Let’s pray.