Advent 4 – Hope
Last week in a Messy Church service we asked the question: what are you hoping for Christmas? Obviously, the children wanted toys, but due to a mishearing, we thought a Beyblade was a ‘baby’. So, we asked, you mean you want a baby? No, it was a Beyblade that was wanted, but the child added, we will be having a baby! His poor mum blushed brightly, this was very new news and not public knowledge yet! The news that this child was expecting a new brother or sister was one of joy and hope, even if tinged with a sense of trepidation in the current economic climate.
For many people Advent, and Christmas is a time of hope, but in this economic crisis and cold snap, Christmas is a time of despair. We have tough choices to make: heat or eat? Can we really afford to buy the Christmas gifts and cards, to festoon our homes with decorations and feasting?
The Old Testament expert, Walter Brueggemann describes the writings of Isaiah and the prophets as ‘hopeful imagination’. Isaiah looked at the situation of his day and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was able to speak words of hope, that another way was possible.
Ahaz was not a good king; he did not follow the ways of his father or King David but worshipped the Baals and made dangerous political decisions. (2 Chron. 27:1-4). As a result, the nation of Judah suffered. They were defeated by the Arameans and Israel. Jerusalem was under siege. Into this situation Isaiah spoke God’s words of hope: the young woman will bear a son, one who would know right from wrong (unlike King Ahaz), and there will be honey and curds, food rather than famine.
Ahaz however refused to ask God for a sign of hope. He spoke religious words about not putting God to the test, but really, he had no faith or trust in God, or obedience. Instead, Ahaz chose to put his trust in the ever-growing, violent and militaristic empire of Assyria. He took treasures from the temple in Jerusalem and gave them to Assyria, offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus. He even shut the doors of the temple so that no one could worship. So, the people suffered.
His son, Hezekiah was very different, not perfect, but he did listen to Isaiah and sought to do God’s will, reopening the temple and reinstating worship of God. The people had peace and prosperity, but it fed Hezekiah’s pride and sin.
The sign of a young woman giving birth is a sign of hope in a time of darkness. It was a time when Israel and Judah were overrun by ungodly empires, similar to the 1st century when Judah was ruled by the Romans. I read this week that hope, and change, generally comes from the margins, not the places of high power and influence. Hope is not passive, a wishful thinking, but is defiant, speaking truth to power, pointing to a better world, acting in obedience when faithful obedience seems to be countercultural.
Mary is the prime example of this hopeful imagination. Her song in Luke 1:46-55 is a hopeful cry for God’s kingdom to come on earth, for the proud and rulers to be deposed and the hungry fed with good things. Interestingly this song was banned by the UK government prior to India’s emancipation from colonial rule and by the Argentinian government as they resisted the mothers of the ‘disappeared’. Hopeful imagination is explosive stuff, it topples empires, challenges the status quo.
In our time of crises, we have hope. The babe born in Bethlehem is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, as we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we know that another world is possible, a world where God’s kingdom of justice and joy, peace and flourishing reign. The name of the child mentioned by Isaiah is important: Immanuel, God with us. Jesus is Immanuel, ‘God with boots on’, ever present with us, and ever giving us his hope.