This article by R. Harvey was found in the January 1953 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Who was it that first expected the Saviour of the world to come? It has been suggested that to answer that question we must turn back practically to the beginning of things to that other story which is, I suppose, just as well known as the Christmas story itself. I am, of course, referring to the story of Adam and Eve. They had committed the great sin of disobeying God. They had done their own will instead of God's will, and when they did that, they brought misery upon themselves and upon all who were to come after them. Adam and Eve had listened to the voice of Satan instead of to the voice of God, and they thought that they would be in Satan's power for ever. It was then that God made them His wonderful promise that gave them hope. They would not always be in the power of Satan. The Son of God would come into the world to set everyone free who wanted to be free.
Well, so much for just one idea of where the promise of a Messiah originated. But we do know that for some two thousand or more years before that very first Christmas, the work of preparation for the coming of the Messiah had been going on, and as we look back now we can see how the actions of the Israelites had a part in that preparation even although at the time, perhaps, it might not have been quite so obvious. Some of them were chosen by God to play an important part in the work of preparation and, having been chosen, they played their part without hesitation.
What a wrench it must have been for Abraham, the "father" of the Chosen Race, to leave his own home and country-folk at Ur of the Chaldees in Southern Babylonia, in the centre of what was at that time quite an advanced civilisation, and journey first northwards to Haran and then southwards to the land that was "to be shown to him", a country about which he must have known but very little. What faith he must have had to even attempt the journey, but no doubt his faith was strengthened by those great promises God made to him: "I will make of thee a great nation and make thy name great. In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." And so the "father" of the family into which ultimately the Saviour was to be born made his way to the country which was to be our Lord's home during His short stay on earth. A great deal of preparation, however, was still needed before the land or the people were to be ready to receive their Messiah. About another two thousand years were to pass before all was ready, and during this time the people were to suffer set-backs which doubtless sorely tried their patience. How far off the coming exile in Babylon, yet Isaiah was there adding his part to the preparation by his words of comfort: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain ... Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand ... He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs with his arm and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young."
Even Cyrus, King of Persia, had his part in the preparation, for by his capture of Babylon in the year 538 B.C. he opened the way for the return of the Jews from exile and gave permission for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, a task which took considerably longer that it need have done, but which was completed eventually about eighteen years later. Another seventy-five years passed before the city of Jerusalem had its walls rebuilt by the people under the guidance of Nehemiah.
The people whose names I have mentioned are but a few of those who prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah. Each one, so to speak, had his own particular task to do, a task for which he had been chosen by God. Some of those chosen may perhaps have seemed a little unsuited for their job, yet however unsuitable they may have been, God had work for them to do. To quote just one example, there is the story of the two brothers, Esau and Jacob. On the one hand, Esau, the hunter, a frank, open, impulsive, generous man with the much more attractive character of the two, and on the other hand, Jacob, who was crafty, deceptive, selfishly scheming and ever ready to gain a personal advantage. Yet it was Jacob, whose name was changed by God to "Israel", who was chosen by God to be one of the corner stones of the Hebrew family, to lead that family one step nearer to the time when all would be ready for the coming of the Messiah.
So the work of preparation went on. Some of it was done by those who led the nation with whom Christ eventually was to come and live; some of it was done by those who organised the building or rebuilding of the places which were to become so familiar to Him during his journeying and teaching, and some of it was done by people like John the Baptist, who made the final preparation, by speaking words of encouragement when needed, or by preaching and exhortation: "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight."
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon