The first Sunday of Advent, which is today, is traditionally celebrated in many churches with the lighting of the first candle in the advent wreath. This candle symbolizes hope and expectation – that a long awaited messiah was about to arrive. Certainly there were no advent wreaths or candles being burned that Sunday many thousands of years ago when all of Israel cried out for a savior from the Roman oppression they were suffering under. He was supposed to come as a conquering King that would fulfill the hopes and expectations of all the people and finally bring justice to a world that was cruel and so messed up.
Instead, he came as a vulnerable baby, born in the presence of animals, revealing himself to shepherds who were on the lowest rungs of society. An unlikely Messiah indeed, he did not seem like the fulfillment of anything, least of all the hope of a nation. Jesus never did live up to the expectations of the people around him. He was a carpenter, not a king; a wandering miracle worker, not a prophet; a friend of the wrong people, not a religious insider; a suffering messiah, not a conquering warrior. While all of this had actually been foretold, it was not what the people were hoping for.
Misplaced hopes seem to be the plight of all mankind. Things are really no different two thousand years after the birth of our lamb who was slain. The four weeks leading up to Christmas these days are far more about the hope for the right gift appearing under the tree than for a savior who can change our lives. The material far surpasses the eternal in the minds of most – even me, if I am really willing to admit it. Our hopes are often so modest because we cannot bear the pain of disappointment that we are sure will come. Do people really ever change, we wonder? Did Jesus really come as the Bible says He did? Can he really make me into a new person like He promises to do? How often our doubts crowd out our hope and lead inevitably to despair.
We are a forgetful people. I am a forgetful person and I need reminders of His faithfulness. Just yesterday, two miracles took place. In the little town of Stockport, England a CLC bookstore celebrated a return from the ashes. Just a few months back, the building the store was in suffered a huge fire and the store had to close. Who knew whether or not it would be able to re-open again in this tough economy? On that same day, farther to the south in the country of Liberia, a similar celebration was taking place. A new CLC store had re-opened in Monrovia after 15 years of being closed. If ever there was a hopeless place, the capital of this war torn country was the epicenter when the store had to close in 1996. Despite all these obstacles, two lighthouses turned on the lights again, opened the doors and welcomed people to once again experience the power of the Gospel through the printed page.
As I celebrate this Christmas season, I am reminded of a verse from the book of Revelation on two beautiful new banners at the front of my church, “Behold, I am making all things new.” We have a hope in a risen savior who is not just going to make all things new, but is already making all things new. This world may be as broken and fractured as ever, but I am compelled to see a different story. Through clay pots and imperfect vessels, God is reclaiming a people for Himself and restoring all things.
I know that I see through a mirror dimly and that it is often darkest before the dawn. Somehow though, I also know that a new day is coming when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” O what a glorious day that will be!