Where True Hope is Found
It's hard to find right now, but maybe we're looking in the wrong kinds of places.
Today California begins a one-month reapplication of an indoor mask mandate.
I get it—cases and hospitalizations are on the rise due to the Omicron variant, and to try and get ahead of it our state is looking to leverage mask-wearing, an often politicized, always annoying, but generally helpful tool for flattening curves—and yet still… uuuuuggghhh.
One step forward, it feels… two steps back.
Oh yeah, and also, this is the season of Advent.
When we’re supposed to think about life themes such as peace, joy, and hope.
Try, frustration… grief… stress… exhaustion.
(Idea: New Advent Wreaths for 2021! Let’s start selling them immediately)
Hope feels a bit out of touch at the moment. This past week at church we sang a new song from Birdtalker which declares, “I believe in better days.” I sang it, loudly, but mostly defiantly. As in, “you damn well better get better soon, days!”
Hope… pff… sure.
But then I re-read the Christmas story and I’m reminded that sometimes (many times) I go about the business of hoping all wrong.
In light of the constant ups and downs of a global pandemic and all that such waves bring (such as: further political divisions, increased financial insecurity, real concerns of health and well-being for me, my family, and loved ones), the invitation to “hope” has been challenging as of late.
I have inadvertently (and perhaps subconsciously?) placed the source of my Hope in the conditions of my external circumstances—especially politically and economically. Meaning, when things are hard, I find myself “hoping for better days” by looking for wins in the political arena and/or the financial one.
So when those things are strained or are straining, it makes sense that “hope” feels distant. Because I think I’m doing it wrong.
Which is where the Story of Jesus birth comes in handy, for it can help redirect my Hope back where it belongs.
In the context of the most powerful Empire the world had ever seen, who’s military might was unparalleled, who’s wealth was unmatched...
...arose this small band of people who rallied around an idea of radical love for their enemy, justice for the oppressed, and mercy for the brokenhearted.
And these radicals were among the poorest and most ignored people.
Jesus was born into a Palestinian world that held no power. A people group who’s necks were pinned to the ground by the boot of Rome. Their peasant-led Kingdom of God movement started not at the top, with the powers that be, but at the bottom, with those who’s voice didn’t matter.
In the context of the most powerful Ruler in the known world, who controlled the most powerful Empire, who could command forces with but a word, who was propped up as a Divine Son of God, whom people were required to kneel before and declare, “Caesar is Lord...”
... was born a humble baby in an even humbler village in an even humbler way.
Mary wasn’t anyone to anybody. She gave birth to a random baby, surrounded by dirty animals and even dirtier shepherds.
Just another nobody to anybody.
And yet, amidst all that "nobody-ness" was where God chose to manifest Divine love and mercy and grace.
Not where it might make the most sense (with a Ruler who could truly do anything), but where it seemed to make the least sense: with a mother and son who didn’t even have a respectable place to stay in town and who eventually had to flee to Egypt because they had no way to protect themselves from the crazy paranoia of King Herod.
In the context of a political machine, where acts of policy could be decisive and swift and all-consuming...
... came a little family who quite literally have nothing special about them.
And it was through that little family that a movement who would challenge the government and the religious establishment was birthed and gained traction.
Because as Jesus taught us, the Kingdom of God is not designed to enter the world from the top down, but always and only from the bottom up.
Where True Hope is Found
And this is what the Christmas Story teaches us, and reminds us every year.
True hope—hope for change, for transformation, for peace, for justice—real hope should not be invested in a global empire, or an influential leader, or a system of power and processes. It should not be located in health departments, federal agencies, or scientists working tirelessly around the clock (even though heroes they may be).
Those things will always fail. Will always ultimately disappoint.
No, what the story of Jesus' birth teaches us, is that
Empires don’t save the world. Marginalized and powerless people groups do.
Emperors don’t save the world. Unwed pregnant teenagers and immigrant babies do.
Loud extraordinary shows of power don’t save the world. Quiet ordinary acts of love do.
So this Advent Season, if you are like me and struggling to find a reason to Hope, I pray that you remember where the Christmas story points us.
Because we will always have those on the margins who are robbed of power, we will always have ignored and oppressed people, we will always have people doing small acts of great love...
...which means we will always have sources to provide Hope.
As long as we're looking in the right places.