"Genuine hope is not blind optimism. It is hope with open eyes, which sees the suffering and yet believes in the future." ~ Jürgen Moltmann
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
The Gospel of Matthew begins with a proclamation, this is a book is about Jesus, about the Messiah and the forever King in the line of David. Then it jumps into a long, somewhat strange, genealogy that includes reminders of the good and evil kings, the liars, faithful men, cheaters, moral failures, honorable foreigners, murder, incest, unknowns, a conquered people, failed promises, bad decisions, and a handful of faithful moments sprinkled in. Matthew holds nothing back from this honest history in opening his “Good News” gospel. He is reminding us hope would be misplaced in his people, his heroes and his kings.
If I can muster the same level of honesty as Matthew, I am reminded, during this season of Advent reflection, of my own history: I cannot honestly say I am confident in myself, or in my church, or in my family, my politics, my intellect, or my faithfulness. So how is any of this good news? I have to agree with the conclusion reached by a 2000-year-old Matthew, and a 2700-year-old prophet Isaiah with the answer. The hope is proven right in the middle of the mess. In spite of this sordid history, God has persevered. Evil king Ahab was not the end of the story, neither was David’s murder of Uriah, or Jacob’s dishonesty and manipulation. My broken relationships, my health issues, my failed plans, my imperfect community, my sin was not the end of the story either. God did not overcome the genealogy, he placed himself into it. He came to redeem it.
We are told, culturally, it is our story that matters. Stepping on someone’s narrative is today’s great heresy. “Be yourself!” is the declared modern Western gospel, and it might seem like freedom and good news, but it is not. The good news of the Gospel is that there is one who is willing to interrupt our story, to shift the genealogy, to arrive and offer a new way. Not just any new way, but a way that is in alignment with the one who holds all things in his hand. The Almighty Creator, the Just Ruler, the Good Shepherd, Love Himself is willing to intervene.
At a recent gathering of pastors from the Capitol Hill network, Debbie from Grace Church read a passage from Philippians 2. She finished the reading by declaring the traditional phrase, “This is the Word of the Lord.” To which many in the group replied, “Thanks be to God.” In that moment I caught a glimpse of what Hope looks like. It is a people grateful for the outside voice. It is a hope not in theories but in proven performance. Jesus came, he died, he conquered death, and he sits on the throne. We trust the one who overcame all of human history with our shared future because we see His faithfulness. We are grateful for God’s intervention, and are therefore a people of hope. We trust almighty God in all things! We can celebrate and join in the hope of Isaiah’s 2700-year-old conclusion on who to trust: “The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” As I look at history, in the bible or in my life the hope lies in the outside voice of Jesus. As we hear His message of hope this Advent season, may our response echo, “Thanks be to God!”
- Chris Gough