I had hardly set the stack of mail, topped by the newest Amazon toy catalog, on our kitchen table before my children had selected their individual crayon colors and began circling the things they wanted to unwrap under the Christmas tree this year. Our home is already decorated to the nines, and our schedules are already overwhelmed with the various class parties, staff parties, or gatherings with friends before we go our separate ways for the holiday. Every year on December 26th, I reflect back on our Christmas season wondering, “Is this all there is?”
From the outside looking in, we might read the nativity story and ask the same question, “Is this all there is?” It is an odd birth story that would include a national census, a manger (which is just the fancy name for a feeding trough), and shepherds. The answer is yes, there is more because the nativity story is an exercise of hope. It is the bridge between Israel’s story and ours, the fulfillment of God’s promises foretold by the Old Testament prophets, and the foundation for our faith in a returning King. Hope is the very foundation of the gospel and a unique identifier of those who believe in Jesus–we are a people of hope.
The nativity story starts well before Mary encounters the angel Gabriel because Luke cannot begin Jesus’ story without first telling that of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist. God is using Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story as a glance in the rear-view mirror, a reflection of when God set His hand upon Abraham and Sarah to be the first of His covenant people who would become living representatives of His power and glory among all the nations. God is now proclaiming through Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son, born to them in their old age and despite their barrenness. God is proclaiming among the people that He is calling unto Himself a new covenant people who will live as kings and priests in the land, as He did in the days of Abraham and Sarah. It is real hope breaking into the world to overcome human obstacles of barrenness and shame.
Gabriel then comes to Mary, a young, unmarried girl of anonymity, who learns that she is seen, favored, and chosen by God to carry the Messiah in her untouched womb. Knit together within her was God’s brilliant light of hope whose birth would drive out the darkness of an arrested world. As my favorite author, A.W. Tozer explains, “The announcement of the birth of Christ came as a sunburst of joy to a world where grief and pain are known to all and joy comes rarely and never tarries long.” I am not surprised in the least that Mary was troubled by the angel Gabriel’s greeting. Jewish culture was patriarchal, so Mary was most likely relegated to the rear of the synagogue when they gathered. Yet, God appeared to her first because His hope was breaking into the world to overcome cultural barriers and physical impossibilities.
The story culminates with two unlikely characters named Simeon and Anna, two righteous servants of God who were in their old age. Even though the Holy Spirit had not been sent by Jesus into the world yet, Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon because he was righteous and devout. Anna was called a prophetess because she had devoted eighty-four years to worship, prayer, and fasting in the temple after being widowed at a young age. They knew not only the voice of God but the presence of God. It was only people who had become so attuned to God’s activity in the world who could recognize and affirm who this baby was in the arms of Joseph and Mary. Their ages and circumstances were not inhibitors to God’s movement; they were precisely the avenues by which God empowered them to speak a confirmation and blessing over the Messiah that day. God’s hope was breaking into the world to overcome ageism and doubt.
Advent is the season of hope. What He has done before, He can and will do again. I invite you to look for glimpses of God’s hope as we go about the busy days ahead.
“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.” Isaiah 9:6