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.

Featured image by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash.

A Living Parable: Jesus Heals on the Sabbath

There is strong scriptural evidence to suggest that Jesus modeled His personal ministry on the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament. Jeremiah is a major prophet in the Old Testament and is often called the “weeping prophet” because of his physical actions that conveyed God’s message to His people through Jeremiah. He is accredited with authoring, including the Book of Jeremiah, the Book of Kings and Book of Lamentations which all chronicle his physical actions and their meaning in Jewish society.

Thus the Lord said to me: Make yourself a yoke of straps and bars, and put them on your neck. Send word to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the Ammonites, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon by the hand of the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to King Zedekiah of Judah. (Jeremiah 27:2-3)

Jeremiah once famously bore a wooden yoke and proceeded to the courts of the most powerful monarchs of his time to demonstrate God’s teaching of the yoke the people had born by worshiping false gods and straying from the Lord, particularly because of the influence of a false prophet. After the wooden yoke is broken by one of the Kings, again as a sign of his supposed ability to crush the enemy’s power, Jeremiah returns with a message about an iron yoke that the people of Israel have taken upon themselves because of their sin.

Sometime after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Go, tell Hananiah, Thus says the Lord: You have broken wooden bars only to forge iron bars in place of them! For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put an iron yoke on the neck of all these nations so that they may serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and they shall indeed serve him; I have even given him the wild animals. And the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the Lord: I am going to send you off the face of the earth. Within this year you will be dead, because you have spoken rebellion against the Lord.” (Jeremiah 28:12-16)

Jesus often teaches in the same manner. And this makes perfect sense since it was God who commanded Jeremiah to take the yoke and use his physical demonstration as a lesson to the people of Israel. And Jesus is God, so that would mean that Jesus was of course part of Jeremiah’s message from God. But of all of the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus seems to express Himself on earth using the same methods that Jeremiah deployed hundreds of years before His coming.

A perfect example of this type of physical demonstration is when Jesus heals a crippled woman in a synagogue on the Sabbath. Luke is the only Gospel writer that tells us of this miracle performed by Christ, but it fits within Luke’s persistent focus on aspects of the human body (which is typical considering he was a physician). It is important to note that there is something seemingly off at the very start of this account. The woman who is present in the synagogue– with what almost certainly appears to be scoliosis– would not be permitted inside of the place of worship under Jewish law. She would have been considered unclean and her livelong illness would have been interpreted as a sign that she was out of favour with God (or more plausibly that her family was out of favour with God). So right out of the gate in this account from Luke, we are skeptical that this entire scene isn’t a setup of some sort. Add on top the convenient fact that the president of the synagogue suddenly shows up with a sermon ready on hand about keeping the Sabbath holy. There is little doubt that this was a setup to trap Jesus by Jewish authorities in the region. But our God is a keen God and channeling a method of teaching used by Jeremiah centuries before, Jesus teaches the authorities a valuable lesson.

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” (Luke 13:10-14)

This account is not made in Luke’s Gospel simply to demonstrate a miracle performed by Christ. There is much more to the entire living parable here. The core of this Gospel account is the misplaced sanctity of the leaders of the nation of Israel. Often times Jesus will directly rebuke the leaders of the Jewish faith of His time for misinterpreting the law and misunderstanding God’s will, especially for the poor and sick among them. And this physical healing is in fact a living parable of how Christ comes to make all this new and holy and how that is the foundation of the law. In rejecting this woman because of her ailments, the Jewish authorities claim that they are carrying out God’s will and keeping the place of worship holy and clean. In healing on the Sabbath Jesus is directly contradicting a very closely held teaching within the Jewish establishment that no work shall be done on the Sabbath, but He also points out how hypocritical the Jews are about this teaching because of their complex legal system around interpreting what is okay and what is not okay to do on the Sabbath. It is even more perhaps convenient that when we review this web of legalism, more and more the exceptions are made for concerns relating to affluence and financial security. Even the example Jesus uses with the donkey relates to an exception that would only be relevant to people rich enough to own livestock at that time. So Jesus heals the woman, and this is a physical representation of how His blood will heal and make all things new within the world.

And it is important to see this healing in this light. This particular miracle is often hard for Christians who themselves suffer physical ailments. Jesus says, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham who Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” Well certainly, but why are we not all worthy as sons and daughters of the same Abraham to be healed just the same as this woman? It is because this healing is much more than just fixing the woman. Indeed, there is nothing inherently wrong with her at all– just the same as there is nothing inherently wrong or abnormal about any differently-abled person. Jesus is not healing her for the sake of healing her, He is healing her to demonstrate a very powerful and very important lesson: that He comes to truly sanctify Israel and the whole world.

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