Advent is a season of waiting, waiting for God to fulfill his promises. We know that most of His promises from the Old Testament were fulfilled magnificently by Jesus. But as St. Paul reminds, we have received but the first fruits of his work in our soul (cf Rom 8:23). The created world and our physical bodies still await the full implications of what He has done. We still await a new Heaven and a new earth where the justice of God will reside (cf 2 Peter 3:13). We still wait for that time when God will renew and restore all things in Christ and will vanquish the ancient foe of mankind, Satan, and his followers, the demons and the wicked, so that they can no longer cause harm.
There are times—times like these—when many may be discouraged. There are times when evil may seem to triumph and the victory of Christ seems very far off. For indeed we live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures.
But as Advent ends there comes a word of encouragement from Isaiah, who has been the main prophet of reference during this season. It is addressed to the fainthearted, and is an unambiguous declaration that God is working His purposes out and that nothing in this world can ultimately prevent His plan from reaching its fulfillment and victory.
It is God who speaks through Isaiah. These words are worth reading aloud if you are in a place where you can do so as you read this:
I am God there is no other. At the beginning I foretell the outcome; in advance, things not yet done. I say that my plan shall stand. I accomplish my every purpose. Yes, I have spoken, I will accomplish it; I have planned it and I will do it. Listen to me you fainthearted, you who seem far from the victory of justice: I am bringing on my justice, it is not far off, my salvation shall not tarry; I will put salvation within Zion, and give my glory to Israel (Isaiah 46:12ff).
Consider three conclusions for us to take to heart.
1. THE PLAN – In Heaven there is no panic, no puzzlement about what to do, just plans. And God says, “My plan shall stand.” The foolish and the self-described “wise and learned” of this world may well scoff and think they have found something greater than God’s wisdom and knowledge. Many seculars may dismiss God as a myth or as irrelevant. The wicked may think they can mock God forever. But God’s plan will stand. The plan and works of evil are going nowhere. Scripture says in Psalm 2,
The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying, 3 “Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” … Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling 12give homage to his Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Yes, God’s plan will stand, no matter the plans of man. And those who mock God, or build their Towers of Babel, or lead others to sin are going to be surprised, and they are going to answer to God.
2. THE PARADOX – God speaks of the “fainthearted” as those who feel far from the victory of justice. To them He says simply that His justice IS near and that it will not tarry.
It is true that God often accomplishes His purposes in paradoxical ways! Simply go to the foot of the Cross to see that. What sort of King is this? What sort of triumph is this? And yet it is a masterful inversion of Satan’s scheme. It is a stealthy action. And just as Satan is making his victory dance, Christ is emptying out Sheol.
Christ conquers by refusing Satan’s terms, by refusing to impress the world on its prideful and vengeful terms. For indeed, darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. And hatred cannot drive out hatred; only love can do that. And pride cannot conquer pride; only humility can do that.
The world demands that Christ become merely a bigger version of Satan: bold, brash, arrogant, and disobedient. It demands that Jesus fight the fight on Satan’s terms, using Satan’s techniques. But Jesus will have none of it and He cancels Satan’s pride by humility and obedience. And to all the prideful, the disobedient, and the braggarts of today the message still goes forth: My plan shall stand. I accomplish my every purpose!
And to the fainthearted goes the message that God’s justice is near. But we must also learn that it comes, paradoxically, through the Cross. For just as the first victory came on a Sunday after Good Friday, so too the second and final victory will rise in the wake of the Cross. But it WILL come—not on the world’s terms and not by Satan’s tactics, but by the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. THE PERSPECTIVE – There are many today who like to announce that the age of faith is over, that God is but a myth and faith a superstition. People who speak like this know little of history.
For indeed, the Lord’s Church has been here for over 2000 years, more than 5000 if you count the Old Testament years. And during this time, empires have come and gone, nations have risen and fallen, heresies and philosophies have waxed and waned. Self-declared enemies have said that they would bury the Church, but the Church read the funeral rites over them. Where is Caesar now? Where is Julian the Apostate? Where is Napoleon, or Hitler, or Stalin, or the USSR?
When the Muslims wiped out the North African cradle of the Church, Europe lit up with converts from the barbarians. Just when two million Europeans walked out of the Church during the Protestant revolt, nine million entered in Mexico following the apparition at Guadalupe. And now that Europe is largely divorcing from Christ, Africa has lit up again like a great wedding feast with a 7000% increase in the number of Catholics over the last fifty years.
People who say that the age of faith is over, or that the Church is doomed, have not read history. They lack perspective because they do not know God, whose plan will stand. That the powers of Hell will strive to destroy the Church is evident. That they will fail to prevail is revealed in Scripture (Matt 16:18) and has been shown all these centuries now. When the current scoffers are dead and gone, the Church will still be here preaching the Gospel. The Lord does not guarantee that we will always be numerous, but we will be here for as long as the sun shall shine and until the Lord comes again.
To the fainthearted the Spirit says, “Be strong. God’s plan will stand.” And so the Lord Jesus says, Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away (Lk 21:33). These are difficult days, even inside the Church. But the Lord is still the Head of His body. God’s plan will stand.