Reflections on Advent – Hope

In his book Back to Virtue professor Peter Kreeft writes that hope is the “forgotten virtue of our time.” For him, hope means hope for heaven which the daily grind of modern life does not inspire us to look upward and therefore actively thwarts. Or as he beautifully puts it, “hope means that our heads do not bump up against the low ceiling of this world; hope means that the exhilarating, wonderful and terrifying winds of Heaven blow in our ears.”

While I absolutely agree with the sentiment of hope that Kreeft presents as the opening up of any limitation of this earthy world. I disagree somewhat that hope is entirely lost on this world. I might dare say that hope exists in more measure than faith does within our modern world (but that is a topic for another reflection post). Hope is not an action in and of itself, hope is the motivator of action. Just as how gasoline in and of itself does not make the car move, it simply provides the energy for the movements of all of the parts to occur in such a way and in such conditions that you are able to safely control the vehicle on the road. Hope is certainly not tangible, indeed none of the virtues are tangible, but hope has a presence that can be felt, especially at times when it is fleeting.

The best example of this I can think is given in a movie with Robin Williams called Jacob The Liar. In the movie Williams plays a Jew in the ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Through a series of (funny, because Robin Williams) events, a rumour starts within the ghetto that he has a radio and listens to broadcasts from the BBC about allies making advances against the Germans. I won’t spoil the movie beyond this (because I highly recommend watching it yourself if you haven’t), but what is important for this post is the hope that is generated and surrounds Williams’ character– something he himself comes to realize despite being a perpetual pessimist. Some people in the ghetto commit suicide because they lose hope of anything changing for them in the ghetto, some people change their dark thinking because of the hope that Jacob brings to the people with his stories from the radio. This hope keeps the people going, and interestingly enough it keeps Williams’ character motivated to continue to take risks and obtain information to keep the hope alive.

It is in this spirit that we enter into the Advent season– reminding ourselves and reliving the hope of the people of Israel during a very important and turbulent time in their history. It is almost 500 years before the birth of Christ and we find ourselves in Judah with a prophet named Jeremiah who has access to the great courts of the land. Jeremiah speaks with tremendous authority, so great that kings listen to his every word– and this is because the words that Jeremiah speaks do not come from a man, but from God Himself.

And it came to pass in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, that this word came unto Jeremiah from the Lord, saying,

Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day…Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah: and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord, which he had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book. Jeremiah 36:1-2, 4 (KJV)

What Jeremiah says is in fact so controversial and so clear that the writings we have of it today in the Bible have actually been edited several times over by Jewish scholars. The meaning has not changed, but there is strong literary evidence to support edits within the book of the prophet Jeremiah which seek to soften the blow of what the prophet foretells. And there is something even more unique in Jeremiah as a prophet from God, he speaks of the coming of a king that would be like David of old who would unite Israel and Judea. The prophet Ezekiel speaks clearly of the coming of the Messiah, or anointed one:

And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:

And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all…And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. Ezekiel 37:21-22, 24 (KJV)

This is the hope that the people of Israel have for the restoration of the people of God. And we share this same hope today because when Christ came He spoke His return and day of judgement. This is when He will take his authority and place in the Kingdom of Heaven and every knee shall bend to His Holy Name. But first today we wait, we sit silently, patiently in the desert waiting for the voice of God. Isaiah tells us to listen to the voice in the wilderness that cries out: prepare the way of the Lord. We put away all things of sinful lust and sins of the flesh and we prepare our bodies and minds for the coming of our Lord– the coming of God. Soon the curtain between the sanctuary and the people will be torn, and the link between man and God created in Jesus Christ. Death will be conquered and the cycle of sin will be broken by the one of likeness of man, as a Son of Man, who will come and unite all people under His rule and dominion.

But first we wait, we sit silently, patiently in the desert waiting for the voice of God.

This reflect is dedicated to BeautyBeyondBones whose Christian faith and incredible spirit pours forth from her blog and into the world. A truly inspiring Christian blogger who exhibits the kind of hope I am struggling to convey to you here in words– certainly worth a follow this Advent season.

God of mercy and consolation, help us in our weakness and free us from sin. Hear our prayers that we may rejoice at the coming of your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mary, Ark of the Covenant

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The Gospel according to Saint Luke tells us more about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, than any other book of the New Testament. The majority of this is a stringing of scripture from Israel into the infancy story of Christ in the first few chapters of the Gospel. The narrative itself is a delightfully layered perspective that hinges itself upon the founding of the nations of Israel with David’s efforts to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem which is capture in 2 Samuel.

There are subtle but significant links between Mary’s Visitation with Elizabeth and David’s efforts to move the Ark of the Covenant. For example, Luke writes that Mary “arose and went” to the Judean hill country to visit her family (1:39) which echos exactly what Samuel writes about how David “arose and went” into the exactly same region centuries before to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6:2). When Elizabeth sees Mary as she arrives she is struck with the same awe and fear that David felt upon seeing the Ark of the Covenant for the first time. The joy is echoed further when Elizabeth’s baby dances inside her similar to how David danced around the Ark (2 Sam 6:16) when she is in the presence of Mary carrying Jesus. And lastly, Luke tells us how Mary stayed for “three months” (1:40 56) with Zechariah’s family recollecting how the Ark of the Covenant was temporarily housed in the “house of Obed-edom” for a waiting period of “three months” (2 Sam 6:11). All together these themes form the basis of Mary being a sacred vessel which is housing God Himself, which is exactly the storyline present in David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and uniting the tribes of Israel.

There is another link that Luke draws from the Book of Chronicles that alludes to his own Greek upbringing. When Elizabeth bursts into a joyful cry at the presence of Mary and her Child, Luke uses the Greek term for “exclaimed,” which on its own seems entirely innocuous. Except that in the Greek manuscripts of Old Testament writings, the Greek term is only used five times and is never used again in any New Testament writing. And the only five times it is found in the OT are about stories concerning the Ark of the Covenant. Luke is drawing a direct parallel between Mary, the Mother of God, and the Ark of the Covenant using a convenient literary device that would have almost certainly been obvious to his intended audience.

Luke provides us with a vision of Mary with clarity unprecedented within the entire New Testament. By linking Mary early in his Gospel with the Ark of the Covenant, Luke does not shy away from the gravity of importance imparted upon the story he about to tell. Again, as a literary genius, and man with a critical scientific eye, Luke systematically builds a case for Jesus as the Messiah and he begins his opening remarks with a powerful reach into the Holy Scriptures of Israel to establish the foundation and makes obvious that Mary is in fact the New Ark of the New Covenant.