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The Advent Hope
Ben and Joy Pontanar
The snow came early this year. To the kids, it’s an early Christmas treat of fun and excitement. The picture of falling flakes of white outside the window brings opportunities to make snowmen and throw loads of snow balls. But to many, it is nature’s unpleasant twist to the economic doom and gloom story that has occupied the front pages of the papers recently. Businessmen are already expecting more significant losses because of the cold snap. It seems that bad news never ends, or that this is just the beginning of worse things to come. As we anxiously face the festive season of Christmas and welcome the coming year 2011, is there something for us to hope for? Can we look forward to the future with confidence and optimism? Or will it still be despair, disbelief and pessimism?
We imagine the shepherds at Jesus’ birth were not in dissimilar states as we are at the moment. Luke 2:8 begins their story when they were out in the fields with their sheep during the night shift. They must have been discussing about the effect of the census Caesar Augustus was conducting at the moment all over the country which meant more taxes, or that there would be no bail-out for lowly shepherds from the little town of Bethlehem, or just the normal stuff shepherds chatted about to pass the night time by. And then an angel appeared to them with the glory of the Lord that filled everything about them. Their response to this unexpected and dramatic change of events was natural: they were greatly afraid (Luke 2:9). Who wouldn’t be? When the glory of the Lord appears before men, men are usually at the state where they realize their lowly singleness in the presence of The All-Powerful.
But then the angel says, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people,” (Luke 2:10).
If the message was just for those shepherds and for the whole Israelite community in the immediate context, the angel must have been joking. What can a baby do to change their world? And looking down through the thirty-three years of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth, where was the “good tidings” that a “multitude of the heavenly host” had to break forth with singing about: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13, 14)?
Here is the punch-line of the angelic message: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord,” (Luke 2:11).
The world can sing all it wants about merry-making, about good news, about joy, about not being afraid. But we have to know the reason why. And looking back more than 2,000 years ago to the sign given to the shepherds, “a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12), we find that reason in God Almighty becoming Emmanuel.
The shepherds’ response after this was that of anticipation, eagerness, awe, worship, evangelism, and praise to God “for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told them,” (Luke 2:15-20). These were individuals who had seen, heard, and were in the presence of Good News.
We need to remember this angelic message once more and receive the Gift that came with it. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16). If God can come as low as a helpless baby with a cattle’s trough for a crib in a stinky stable to poor peasant parents and eventually die as your and my Lamb substitute for all that’s wrong in this world and in our lives, He can break through our doom and gloom stories and make us people of the Good News, people of the Advent Hope.