I was born on what I would argue is the worst day for a birthday—25 December. There are two days that children spend the year looking forward to—Christmas, and their birthday, but as a child, I only had one day to look forward to, one day to count down to. The anticipation I felt as Christmas approached each year was huge.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve sought to replace that feeling of anticipation for my big once-a-year dose of presents with the mindful anticipation that we call Advent.
What Is Advent?
The word ‘advent’ means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’, and it marks a season of anticipation in the lead up to Christmas. It’s both a tracing of the anticipation of the first coming of Jesus, which we know as the Christmas story, and a hopeful expectation of the second coming of Jesus—new creation.
Thankfully, Biblical hope is not focused on circumstances, but on the person of Jesus.
Biblical Hope In Three Words
There are three main words used in the Bible for this idea of hope:
Yakhal (Hebrew) which means ‘to wait for’ as it appears in:
- Psalm 71:14 ‘But as for me, I will yakhal continually. And will praise you yet more and more.’
- Psalm 119:18 ‘My soul languishes for your salvation; I yakhal for your word’
- Micah 7:7 ‘But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord; I will yakhal for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.’
Qavah (Hebrew), which also means ‘to wait’ but it’s the feeling of tension and expectation while you wait for something to happen, found in:
- Isaiah 40:31 ‘But those who qavah on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’
- Lamentations 3:25 ‘The Lord is good to those who qavah for Him, to the person who seeks him.’
Hope in the Hebrew sense is about waiting or tense expectations.
Elpis (Greek) is about the personification or hope, living hope found in the person of Jesus.
Elpis was used to describe looking back to the resurrection of Jesus while looking forward to the hope of all creation being renewed. To anticipate with pleasure all that was to come.
- Romans 5:1-2 ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace through God with our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom we also have access by faith into his grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in elpis of the glory of God.’
A World In Desperate Need of Hope . . . Then And Now
The world in which Jesus was born into was a world in desperate need of hope.
At this time, Israel was no longer exiled in Babylon but they were enslaved in their own country under the Roman Military dictatorship. King Herod ruled Judea, Samaria and Galilee like a police state. There was the very rich ten per cent who controlled everything while the other 90 per cent largely lived in poverty. Tax systems were unjust, there was political and social meltdown, and the word of God hadn’t been heard for 400 years. Jewish writers at the time said that ‘the Holy Spirit had departed from Israel.’
And then, into this context stirred a thrill of hope—a weary world rejoices.
Today, interest rates and the cost of living are rising, the number of people facing hunger globally has now surpassed all records, the war in Ukraine continues, 89.3 million people are displaced, only ten per cent of companies pay a living wage to their garment workers, and our society is becoming increasingly polarised.
But today, amongst all of this stirs a thrill of hope—a weary world rejoices.
Mary, Invited Into God’s Story Of Hope
For context, read Luke 1:26-38.
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.’
Mary’s response is one of humble obedience. These circumstances weren’t exactly convenient for Mary, this would have brought great shame to her and Joseph, let alone the weight of raising the Messiah everyone had been waiting for.
But what I love about this story is that God didn’t need Mary in order to bring Jesus into the world, he chose to usher in his kingdom through her. He invited Mary into the story of hope, and he continues to invite us into that story today.
An Invitation For Biblical Hope For You
This Advent, I wonder how God wants to use you to point people towards Elpis, the living hope we have in Jesus. And what would it look like for us, like Mary, to step out in faith, humbly and obediently and say yes to being part of this kingdom of hope, this new creation that we are now looking forward to.
Biblical hope is a choice to wait for God to bring about a future which is as surprising as raising a crucified man from the dead.
‘For nothing is impossible with God’. A virgin falling pregnant with the son of God, blind seeing, lame walking, a few loaves filling 5,000 bellies, water becoming wine, sins forgiven.
God is bringing about his kingdom of hope in the most unexpected places, through the most unexpected people. If he can use a young, poor girl who lives in a town no one’s heard of to bring the embodiment of hope into the world, then I wonder how he wants to use each of us to continue to write this story of hope.