Articles

Advent Hope

November 28, 2021 by

MaryMain
Carl Heinrich Bloch The Annunciation, 1890.

Advent is a season of hope, and of joy, and expectation! Even though all around us there is so much hopelessness, it can become downright wearying. I don’t need to list the reasons: all you need to do is turn on the TV or open a newspaper. Yet, Christmas is coming! 

Where do we find hope amid all the misery – the hope of the Christmas season? After all, it was into such hopelessness that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in a time when there was no less need and despair. God chose such a time to send his only son to bring new life and redemption to all people.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, a young woman engaged to Joseph, a carpenter, she in joy and amazement accepted with her whole heart the task God gave her: to carry and give birth to his son Jesus. Because she responded in faith, knowing the hard road ahead, God was with her and blessed her. The Gospel of Luke tells us that when Gabriel informed Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus, she was so filled with hope that she sang a prophetic song of praise to God.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1:46–49)

Will we respond to the tasks that God places on us today with the same trust, humble acceptance, faith, and rejoicing that Mary exuded? This Advent season is a perfect time to revisit Mary’s story, and the whole account of Jesus’ birth. Mary was not just the gentle mother in blue that we see on Christmas cards – she was someone gripped by a powerful vision of the future. And her proclamation of hope and praise can bring encouragement to any lowly heart that may be weary or despairing. In her song, Mary prophesies that one day God will turn the tables. The high and mighty will be brought low, the humble and downtrodden lifted up. The poor will have their fill, and the rich will be sent away empty-handed.

Hundreds of years before Mary, a man named Isaiah made similar prophecies. He said that when the Messiah comes, “The eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. The lame man will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute shall sing” (Isa. 35:5–6).

So often, we can’t turn the tables in favor of justice, as Mary imagined them being turned. We don’t have that kind of power. Often we don’t even have the faith to envision the world Isaiah describes, a world where suffering and sadness are redeemed. But that doesn’t mean we should resign ourselves to the way things are. If we live in the hope of Advent – the term refers to the promised return or “second coming” of Christ – we will make time each day to look toward that day.

God can use us if we are vulnerable, waiting, and ready to be used by him. And we can ask God for the strength to be bearers of his love by doing the acts of mercy and kindness. If we try to understand with our hearts the promise that Jesus will come again to this earth, we will be filled with expectation for that great and liberating day. We will find concrete ways of sharing and helping those who have less than we do, rather than being greedy or wasting resources. We will practice the works of mercy: we will visit the sick and those in prison, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome refugees. We will be salt (that is, we will speak out against evil) and we will be light (that is, we will spread love and joy). Most importantly, we will love our neighbor as ourselves, and we will be peacemakers.

As we do these things, it will upend the world around us, and we ourselves will be changed! We will become people of hope. If Christmas is the season of hope, its essence is the longing for such a transformation. I am convinced this longing lives in every human soul.

When we see kindness and friendship, refugee families cared for, the hungry fed, the stranger welcomed, and those in prison visited, we get a glimpse of the future kingdom of God, where the lion will dwell with the lamb and compassion and love will prevail. Wherever this happens, the hope and joy expressed in Mary’s song will spread from one heart to the next, until it goes out into all lands and nations. Therefore, in this time of preparing for Christmas, let us all, as Jesus said, “Look up, lift up your heads; for your redemption is drawing nigh!” (Luke 21:28).

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About the author

Paul Winter

Paul Winter

Paul Winter serves as the Elder of the Bruderhof. He lives with his wife, Betty, at the Woodcrest Bruderhof.

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