On November 4, 1979 Iranian students in support of the Iranian Revolution stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took 66 Americans hostage. The students claimed that the US had sinned against them by “meddling in the affairs of their sovereign state”. Claiming solidarity with “oppressed women and minorities” the students initially released 13 female and black hostages (and another who became ill). The 52 remaining hostages they held for a total of 444 days. The hostages were variously bound, blindfolded, beaten, paraded before angry crowds, told to strip naked, and threatened constantly with bodily harm and death. Initial negotiation attempts with the US state department were miserable failures and a subsequent rescue attempt was fatally disastrous for US troops. Despite all of this, the American hostages continued to cling to the hope of one day returning home.
Finally (after the death of the Shah) the Iranian government entered into negotiations with the US with Algeria acting as mediator. The “Algiers Accord” was finally signed and the hostages were released the next day. Some historians cite this (at 444 days) as the “longest hostage situation in history”…
While my son Ben is the official historian in the family, I would like to suggest that there is a much longer hostage crisis recorded in history; the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews. In the 6th century BC the king of Babylon destroyed the city of Jerusalem and its temple, then removed all of its inhabitants and held them in Babylon (roughly the same place as modern-day Iran) for 70 YEARS. The king of Babylon was punishing the Jews for not submitting properly to his authority. The Jewish Bible tells us that it was actually God punishing the Jews for their sin of stiff-necked disobedience and rebellion against Him. Though their sin HAD to be punished (because God had warned them many times that He would take them away from the land He had given them if they did not repent . . . and they did NOT repent!) He still did not stop loving them, and so promised to comfort them by sending someone to eventually bring them back “home” to the “promised land”. Their shame and their captivity would NOT last forever. God would send a rescuer. The prophet Isaiah spoke for this rescuer generations BEFORE Jerusalem was destroyed and CENTURIES before the rescuer was sent;
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners
These are the words that the “One anointed to rescue” (Christ) repeated when He began His ministry. The hope of the Jews in captivity was that one day their hearts, broken by their own sin, would be bound up in forgiveness; that their “poverty” of sin would be replaced with the riches of God’s grace; that they would be freed from their captivity because of and to sin; that the darkness of their depravity would end and they would, once and for all, walk in the light of their God.
As surely as the Iranian hostages clung to the hope of release from the darkness of their prisons to return to the light of their home, the Babylonian captives before them clung tenaciously to a similar, yet greater hope. And their hope was answered. They did return “home” to Jerusalem and to their beloved temple where “God dwelt with them”. Yet this “return” was only a dim foreshadowing of the fulfillment of the prophesy above, because ultimately this prophesy found its complete fulfillment in “The Anointed One” (Jesus the Christ) who came to be “God with us” (Emmanuel) on the very first Christmas 2000 years ago. What we celebrate this December 25 is the coming of the One anointed to rescue us from our poverty, darkness, and captivity to sin. He did so by living perfectly in our place, paying for our sin by taking our punishment on Himself, and so, forgiving all of our sin and shortcomings before God. As with Judah of the past, God has never stopped loving us and calls us to repent of our sin and let His Anointed One take it from us so that we should be freed to live in His light and love. In addition, He has promised to send Jesus the Christ back on the last day to finally take us “home” where we will be forever free from all sorrow, tears, hurt, death, darkness, and imprisonment to sin.
And so, as we approach Christmas Day . . . and even the Day of the Lord to come, we can join with all who truly trust in the promise of God and His Christ and gratefully say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for…”
Rev. Nick Wirtz is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church at 2750 Mogollon Dr. in Overgaard, AZ and can be reached at (323) 717-4390. Pastor Nick resides in Overgaard with his wife Patricia. He has spent over 20 plus years as a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod with most of that time spent in bi-lingual (English-Spanish) ministry. He also serves on the board of the local Salvation Army as an advisor, as Chaplain for Post 86 American Legion Riders, and as a Board member of the Overgaard CERT. He’s also known to be seen pickin’ a little guitar around town from time to time.