To slay their foes and lift them high;
Thou cam'st, a little baby thing
That made a woman cry."
--George McDonald, 1824-1905
As we study the Advent passages for today—one theme runs them all. Hope
In Psalms 72—hope for the poor. Deliverance to the needy. Unlikely hope.
In Isaiah 11—with the frightening exile looming in their future the prophet gave the people what? Hope. From a tiny shoot, hardly perceptible would emerge from the stump of the cut-down tree. And from that shoot would come a branch Unseen—but real—the roots of the shoot were alive...and hope was on the way. Unlikely hope.
In Romans 15 Paul says that the Scriptures were written that we might find hope. God, he says, is a God of hope—filling us--even us—with joy and peace and yes—hope. Unlikely hope for the mess they were in. Even with what we are in?
In Matthew 3—there appeared on the scene a wild man, John the Baptist. If you were to paint a picture of a prophet—would he look like the wild John? No. Yet—this unlikely one would pave the way for Him who was to come.
Unlikely. Hope. These are the two words that jump out of the text for me. Unlikely at every point. Poor family. Sixteen-year-old girl. Peasant father. Born in a barn, for God’s sake. Far, far from Rome and all its power. Unlikely hope.
The TV brings us the news that Nelson Mandela has died. Black man in segregated Africa. Imprisoned for 27 years for his plots against his established government. A long time. What happened? I do not understand it. He became President of South Africa. He was a Nobel Prize winner. He reached out to blacks and whites and helped his fractured country find some hope for all its citizens. In The NY Times editorial for Friday the President of Ghana writes: “He Taught a Continent to Forgive.”
Truly God has a sense of humor. Unlikely hope in all directions. In an exile. In a wild man with no real credentials. In a barn. From a jail cell to the Presidency of his country. Unlikely hope.
What about us? Here. Now. Heartbreak everywhere. The poor still bashed by too many well-heeled people. A President under siege. A mainline church not sure at all where it will go or what it should do. Too many still coming home in flag-draped boxes.And you and me, stringing lights, hanging wreaths on doors, sending cards across the way. Could it be that here and now--up and down our streets: hope—unlikely hope might just knock on our door and all the others? “Let every heart prepare him room...” the old Carol goes. Rich. Young and old. Muslim and real live Southern Baptist. Catholics and Jews. Gays. Every heart. E-v-e-r-y heart. Unlikely hope.
( I saw this rendering of John the Baptist last fall and thought it strange. The great sculptor Rodin fashioned this piece as his understanding of John the Baptist. Unlikely Hope)