Hope often comes to us not as we expect. It doesn’t come crashing through our despair as many of us wish it would, armored for battle, fighting by our side. It comes to us small and fragile and quiet. So we tend to doubt it. I myself have a complicated relationship with hope. After battling with infertility for over seven years, I have come to resent hope in its smallness and quiet, as if it’s taunting me to believe in something I haven’t experienced any victory in.
The people of Israel waited in hope for their Messiah to come and rescue them from an oppressive government. Four hundred years of silence, the people of Israel endured exile, return, vicious Ruler and after Ruler. They waited and they hoped for God to come crashing in, armored for battle, to take back their land that was promised to them by God himself and once again dwell in their midst. You see their hope was great and God’s coming was no small thing. So you can sympathize with their plight when God doesn’t come in armor but in flesh. In small, fragile flesh. I know I can. Because we all have to admit that we ultimately want a god who wins the battle and not a God who sleeps in a feeding trough. How does that embody the message of hope?!
Let me begin by first making a few distinctions before I go any further. I will be using two terms regularly throughout these posts if you haven’t noticed already and I would like to define them for you:
Embody or Embodiment: “A tangible or visible form of an idea, quality, or feeling”
Incarnate or Incarnation: “A person who incarnates in the flesh a deity, spirit, or abstract quality”
Why is it important to know this? Because these words get used often in different spheres and traditions. Our Christian tradition believes that God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ (incarnation) and since our tradition believes God is love, as well as peace, joy, and hope, Christ ultimately embodied all those qualities as well. There’s overlap and yet distinctions to remember.
Okay, moving on…
When Christ came, incarnate as a little babe through the womb of Mary, he embodied hope by this very act. Read Isaiah 9:2-7. Can you feel the hope in this passage? What statements embody hope?
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
There is so much hope for the people of Israel in this passage yet some of these scriptures are confusing because there is mention of battle and winning, right? If you didn’t see that, read it again! Just the word “zeal” alone makes me think that God is going to come and crush the enemies of His people. So they hoped with this in mind but God’s zeal unexpectedly can small and quiet.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.(Isaiah 7:14)
How does Christ the babe, conceived and born, fully human, embody the message of hope? And what does that actually mean for us and the world today?
First, let’s just sit with the fact that Christ came in the flesh. The flesh, people! Our aging, hairy, susceptible to cold and flu bodies. Bodies that experience fear and laughter, trauma and joy, that body. Christ didn’t enter into the world with some totally perfected, renewed body. No, he took on our flesh. This should give us hope because our bodies are not our enemies. He loves every part of our lives from before conception to eternity. This can be counter-culture for some of us who have learned that our bodies are impure and broken. Especially today with those who have experienced the hyper-conservative, purity culture that taught us our bodies were innately sinful and needed to be kept pure. Though the liberal culture hasn’t helped with teaching us that we can do whatever we want to our bodies. Or the consumer culture that tells us our bodies should be a certain way. All of these messages carry a broken, distorted idea of our bodies. If Christ came fully in the flesh, what does this actually say about our bodies? I believe that God tells us He is redeeming the WHOLE MAN. That our flesh isn’t something to be managed or beaten into submission, but is being redeemed and will be fully redeemed when Christ comes again. Our bodies will be with us for all of eternity, just as Christ is now in his body. The implications for this are huge because our service to the world, our acts as little Christs, must include meeting the needs of the body! And even further, our own redemptive stories must include taking care of our bodies. We do this with hope, knowing that our bodies, along with the whole world will one day be made new.
Second, Christ came as a male born into the Hebrew nation through a family lineage. Why not come as a girl or as an African? I’ll address the male reason first. From what I see in the scriptures, Christ, though he entered into the world by way of significant vulnerability as a baby, was also born male which culturally came with power in a patriarchal society. Why is this significant? Because if we follow the life of Christ we will see him modeling what it means to lay power down. Christ set his power aside (Philippians 2:1-11), from being born as an infant and then as a male adult, continue to show us what it means to lay aside power to love the broken and marginalized. He could not have done this if he came as an already marginalized and disempowered people group.
He was also born Hebrew, not white nor any other culture but an Israelite. This is directly connected to God’s promise He gave to Abraham, the father of the nation of the Israel “that all nations would be blessed through him” (Genesis 22:18) which ultimately pointed to Christ. God chooses to work with a people-group, through culture and not around it. Meaning, God’s plan has never been to create one homogenous group of people that all look and act the same. He works in and through culture, not against, despite it, or ignoring it. He chooses the Israelites to be the people who carry the message of God to the whole world, and today He has chosen His church to continue carrying His message of hope, and His church is as diverse as it comes. He modeled for us what it looks to lay aside our power and connect with the “other”, those who are different and marginalized to share the message of Immanuel hope and for them to share it with us!
Therefore, if Christ in the flesh came through culture, embodying the message of Immanuel hope then as Christ-followers we are too! Our very lives and bodies are the message of hope walking around in the world with eyes to see and lips to speak this very message. And the message is this: hope isn’t just next door, it’s in the world and ultimately in you through the Holy Spirit! Hope isn’t taunting us, it compels us to move. My complicated relationship with hope has caused us to continue our fertility journey but even more, Immanuel hope, causes us to move deeper into relationship with God and with neighbor because I believe there is no hope outside of God. God’s hope of redemption and restoration lingers all over the world, just not in church or in America or in any man-made system. It’s in places that may surprise you, like an infant in a manger, kind of surprise. God’s hope doesn’t discriminate nor dim it’s light so as not to offend, it is warm and welcoming and accessible to all. Though not everyone recognizes hope for what it is: God’s presence on earth. His kingdom is here now, saturated with hope to all mankind. We the church are simply charged to connect people with the Hope that is already at work in the world.
What positions of power do you hold where you can model humility? Who is an “other” in your neighbor or city that you can reach out and connect with this Advent season?
The activities for each Advent theme will be around meditating and mediating. Meditating is about preparing our hearts and minds to engage the embodied message of Advent. Mediating is about connecting people to that message.
Over the next 6 days, take 10 to 15 minutes per day to meditate on this passage: John 1:1-5
- Read it 3x or more slowly
- Asking God to reveal a phrase or word to you
- Pray that word or phrase back to God
You answered the question above about an “other” in your neighborhood or city. How can you reach out and connect with this person relationally? (Hint: think outside just bringing Christmas cookies but it’s a good start.) Please comment below any ideas you have for this activity!
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:13