Hope and the Christmas Story

I don’t know if you have sung O Little Town of Bethlehem yet this year but you may be familiar with that beautiful line, ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight…’

‘Hope’ is that wonderful gospel word that speaks of the inbreaking of God’s transforming purposes into the bleakest of situations. I love the line in that carol because it acknowledges that hope can be something that we have to hold on to for a long time, and in the midst of other feelings and difficulties.

As I read Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, I am struck by how hope-filled it is. There’s so much we could look at but let’s just focus on chapter one.


A hopeful family history

To individualised Western ears, Matthew begins his Gospel in a very odd way: ‘This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:’ (1:1, NIV). He presents us with a family tree stretching from Abraham all the way through to Jesus, by way of some of the big names and striking stories of the Old Testament.

While this may not be how we would have chosen to launch into an account of the birth of Jesus (and the book as a whole), Matthew is doing something really important here. He is establishing that Jesus is ‘the Christ’ / Messiah, the anointed deliverer of Israel. This Jesus was in the line of Abraham (through whose descendants God promised he would bless the world, Gen. 12:1-3) and David (to whom God promised he would always have a descendant of the throne, 2 Sam. 7:11-16).

Even the way he presents the family tree seems to be making a point: Abraham to David is a complete chapter in the story of Israel, as is David to the Exile, as is the Exile to Jesus (verse 17). And now, Matthew seems to be saying, it has all led up to this. It is time for a new chapter in God’s purposes: a new beginning.

Matthew has a sense of the sweeping story of Israel’s history and sees it all finding its home in the coming of Jesus. Something I love about the way he shapes this history is that he isn’t content to just include the ‘big names’ you might expect, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah. Nor does he present an ‘acceptable’ history, airbrushing out all the difficult parts. Rather, Matthew includes women and foreigners (like Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, and Bathsheba), and even draws our attention to a story of abuse of power and murder by king David (verse 6; see 2 Sam. 11). It feels like he is both affirming his readers’ need to see Jesus’ Messiah pedigree, while also challenging their assumptions about what that might mean.

He then moves on from the history to the circumstances of Jesus’ birth (verse 18). Given this was the birth of the Christ, we might expect great fanfares and majesty. Instead God opts for what might, in human terms, seem unpromising – hopeless, even. A baby expected in supposedly scandalous circumstances to an anonymous couple in the back-and-beyond of the Empire.

And yet this story is hopeful because God is in it working by the Holy Spirit. And what could be a more hopeful name than ‘Jesus’, the LORD saves? Matthew then brings in the prophet Isaiah, citing a promise from centuries before about a young woman who would give birth to ‘Immanuel’, which means ‘God with us’ (verse 23).

THIS is what ultimately makes Christmas a time of hope: despite everything that might appear to suggest the opposite, God’s certain presence and offer of salvation is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus.


Future hope worked out in the present

One thing I sometimes struggle with, though, is how the sure hope of the future that we have in the Gospel translates into everyday living with all its pressures, disappointments, frustrations and hurt. Are we just supposed to cling on in the present because one day everything will be put right?

Well, absolutely, we long for and are inspired by the sure hope of the future. Christian hope is not naïve, but it faces the realities of the present with the reality of the future; a future that is an anchor for how we live in the present. Mary’s miraculous pregnancy was said to be by or through the Holy Spirit (verses 18, 20); this same Spirit who is now at work in Jesus’ disciples.

As followers of Jesus, our hope in the ultimate transformation of all things is the context in which nothing is wasted and nothing is forgotten. Every tiny act of faithfulness and forgiveness, every minute offer of patience and grace, every unnoticed or ignored reaching out in love is a defiant sign of hope that we are in a bigger story.

However we are involved with Home for Good, as followers of Jesus, our hope in the ultimate transformation of all things is the context in which nothing is wasted and nothing is forgotten. Every tiny act of faithfulness and forgiveness, every minute offer of patience and grace, every unnoticed or ignored reaching out in love is a defiant sign of hope that we are in a bigger story.

I want to finish this reflection on hope by including a prayer taken from our Christmas resource:

God of Hope, God of mighty wonder, God who was welcomed with the bright light of stars and the songs of angels; Whose name was proclaimed and praised over the hills and fields outside Bethlehem. We praise you and we thank you for the moments when hope hits us like a ton of bricks! For that family who finally are receiving the support they’ve been needing for so long; for pieces of policy and legislation passed that will lead to real and lasting change; for families found for children and teenagers through fostering, adoption and supported lodgings. We pray for social workers and other professionals, and for policy shapers and decision makers, and for the systems and structures that shape our society. May hope and justice run through them at their core.

Amen.

Author:
Tim Davy


Date published:
15th December, 2023


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