Excerpt from Week One: Hope
The first week of the Advent season focuses on the theme of Hope. For many of us, hope is a fuzzy concept that often gets mistaken with a fleeting wish or casual desire. Phrases like “I hope you have a great day!” or “I hope this works!,” commonly appear in our everyday conversations. This week we are going to look at the theme of Hope in its biblical context, especially in the lives of the Jewish people of the first century.
For the Jewish people, hope was something that was all but smothered by the oppression they faced from the Roman government. They were a conquered people who were severely limited in their freedom and considered one of the lowest ranked people groups in their society.
Any hope of freedom from their oppressors was based on prophetic words written generations ago. The stories of a coming King hadn’t panned out yet. Popular fiction and a few revolts led by men claiming to be God’s chosen Messiah served to spark momentary glimpses of hope, hope that the faithful God of generations past would be true to his word and deliver his people. But, as time dragged on, revolutions were squashed, potential messiahs were executed, and the spark of hope was quickly smothered leaving them spiritually numb. They were stuck in their situation and most of their hope had withered away. These were truly dark times for God’s people, times foreseen by the prophet Jeremiah when he said,
“I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long….
My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” (Lam. 3:1–3, 17-18 ESV)
It was during this time; a time where hope was scarce; a time when darkness reigned; a time that seemed to stretch on and on with no end in sight, that God spoke. Zechariah, a visiting priest from the outskirts of Jerusalem, was told (by the angel Gabriel) that despite his advanced years, he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. This boy would be The Herald (The Announcer) of a message of hope that would change the course of history.
True to the spiritual numbness of his people, Zechariah doubted. This priest, a man who was supposed to lead others in the worship of God and constantly remind the Jewish people that God was true to his promises, didn’t believe God could or would do something so spectacular. As a result, he was rendered unable to speak until his son was born.
The first words Zechariah uttered, after his speech was restored, are recorded in Luke 1:67-79. They form a beautiful poem that recalls God’s past faithfulness to the people of Israel, recognizes that he is currently at work on their behalf, and looks to the future with anticipation. Through this poem, we can see that Zechariah was beginning to understand what the concept of hope was really all about.
Scripture Reading from the New Testament:
Read Luke 1:67-79
In Zechariah’s poem, we can see that hope finds its meaning in God’s character. It’s a confidence that, despite the situation, God is acting on behalf of his people. Hope acknowledges the present circumstances and views them through the filter of God’s past faithfulness. Even when his action is not evident, when we don’t know how he is working things out for our good, we can look into our past and remember how he has lovingly comforted, rescued, and guided us along the way.
Reflecting on these times is an act of worship. It provides us with a foundation of hope that God is present, here and now, working on our behalf. And, if God has been faithful in the past, is faithful here and now, we can trust that he will also be powerfully at work in the years to come.