There is hope

Have you ever met someone that just oozed hope?

I met two (very different) groups of such people this Advent, while reading Matthew 2:1-18 and Luke 2:8-20.

I’ll pause while you have a read…

I enjoyed meeting the three Magi, traditionally ‘wise men’, in Matthew’s gospel. They had studied the night sky and the holy scriptures for years. I can’t imagine how exciting that moment must have been when they realised that Micah’s prophecy and the movement of the stars were both coming together! Then they must have travelled for miles. They had the openness and integrity to explain what they were doing to King Herod and the leaders in Jerusalem – and the discernment to steer clear when God showed them that these people were not in fact to be trusted. They were led to Jesus, which is where I want to be led too. They were ‘overjoyed’ (verse 10) when they found him. These were people of really dogged faith and hope. I think they’re great!

Is the wise men’s studiousness and knowledge an ingredient of their success in finding Jesus? Maybe for them, but Luke’s account of the shepherds shows this won’t be the case for all of us. The humble shepherds show the same beautiful, persistent hope as the wise men as they rush to Bethlehem to meet Jesus after hearing of his birth from an angel. So our level of education or material wealth has no bearing on our opportunity to enjoy the hope of the gospels! We see that good news travels fast as they start telling everyone around of the mind-boggling thing that has happened to them. The experience results in them ‘glorifying and praising God’ (verse 20). I think the shepherds are great too!

Hope v hate

Another character in Matthew’s account couldn’t be more different from the hopeful wise men and shepherds. I would find this person much, much harder to love! King Herod of Judea is a power-hungry, corrupt leader whose jealousy of the newborn king and fury at being outwitted by the wise men will result in the infanticide of all boys aged under two in Bethlehem, an act that is commonly referred to as ‘The Massacre of the Innocents’ (see verses 16-18). If hope is a firm foundation that bears good fruit, hatred seems to be its corrosive opposite that bears appallingly violent, inhumane fruit.

This Christmas, I’m saying ‘no’ to the hatred of Herod and ‘yes’ to the hope of the wise men and shepherds. This year my emotional health has been tested by the modern ‘Herods’ and haters of our world, by the cruelty and barbarism they display among the most vulnerable. And I am sick of it. There is a better story, and I am going to re-commit myself to paying attention. Will you join me?

There is hope in an astronomer devoting his life to studying the night sky and then stepping out in faith and in sacrificial generosity.

There is hope in a humble, probably despised group of shepherds being the first people chosen to spread the word about the birth of Jesus.

There is hope in a God who makes himself ‘nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Philippians 2:7).

There is hope in the lives of those who live all this out today. I’m so privileged to count such people among my friends and colleagues. I love you all!

As the actions of the wise men and shepherds show, my choice to walk in hope will involve some perseverance on my part. It won’t always be easy. For one thing, I am called to love the unlovable Herods, to stop writing them off as being beyond the reach of hope. For me, I suspect this will be a significant learning curve in 2016 and beyond. For you, it might be something else!

But what is the result of following?

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Joy, peace and hope. Sounds good to me.

Thank you for following this blog. I wish all blog readers a peaceful and blessed Christmas. See you in 2016!