First Sunday of Advent – HOPE

Jon Stovell, Nov 26, 2022, 4:45 PM
Jon Stovell National Theological Consultant

There is a good reason why the Advent season begins with the theme of hope. Deep at the beating heart of the Christian faith stands an undeniable, enduring, everlasting hope. It is a hope based on God's promises and God's actions. It is a hope that encompasses all our lives and all our world. It is a hope at once answered and spurred forward, incongruously, by the birth of a small peasant child.

As the hymn O Come, O Come, Emanuel eloquently describes, the people of Israel were oppressed and hoping for liberation. They looked for the advent (which means arrival) of the Messiah to rescue them from this oppression. Their hopes were not based on idle wishfulness, either. They were based upon the past promises of God to deliver his people from such oppression, and the past actions of God to fulfill those promises. These were promises like the one God gave to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, in which the birth of a young child named Immanuel was an assurance that God would deliver his people from the threats that faced them in those days, and about which Matthew tells us that Jesus was the greater fulfillment in his own day—and ours. The advent of Jesus, the Messiah, was, is, and will be the grounds for hope that all such oppressions, struggles, and strife in our lives will give way to peace, love, and joy.

But the hope that God's people held wasn't simply a hope for political change, although that most definitely was an important part. It was a hope for "The Day of the Lord" to come, when God would make all things right in creation. This was the day when all evil would be brought to an end and all things would be made right and new again. It was a hope for the transformation and renewal of all creation, when God would come and dwell among his people and bring all things into full communion with him. This great hope is all encompassing, and holds all our smaller hopes within it.

And so it is that we begin the season of Advent with hope, for Jesus' advent to us addresses both our smaller hopes in this world and the great hope of God's people for the transformation of the world. He is, indeed, the answer to all our hopes, because Jesus is our Immanuel, "God with us," in the fullest sense imaginable. His presence with us, first in Bethlehem and Nazareth, now via his Holy Spirit, and one day at his Second Advent, makes possible the fulfillment of our great hope for the world's salvation and transformation, and therefore of all our smaller hopes within it. We hope for and seek out justice for our neighbours here and now because Jesus with us makes that great hope possible. We can hope for peace in a war-torn world today because Jesus with us makes that great hope possible. We hope and wait and pray for blessing and abundance and joy now because Jesus with us makes that great hope possible.

This is why we celebrate Jesus' birth, and not only his death and resurrection, and why we prepare ourselves for a month in the season of Advent, and why we commemorate him by celebrating Communion together. Jesus really is our Immanuel. He is God with us. He is the foundation and pinnacle of all our hopes. He is the promise of help and salvation to us in our troubled, sin-stricken world. He is the fulfillment, and the fulfiller, of every promise of God's help. He is the reason why king Ahaz could look at a little boy and be reminded that God would save him from peril. He is the reason why we can look at our perils and trials today and hold on to confident hope that our help and salvation is at hand.