My church is doing Advent differently this year than we have in the past and my pastor asked me to write something each week as we read Scripture together. Since I love Advent and enjoy writing about it, I said yes. Feel free to join us each week as we read about Christ, as we reflect on waiting for our Savior, and as we learn to be like Him in our world today.
This week, we’re going to talk about hope. Hope is one of my favorite things to talk and write about. Couple it with Advent? Whew, I love it. Hope is the perfect follow-up to faith, because they go hand-in-hand. Because we have faith, we can have hope. Hope is a kind of waiting faith.
Last week’s readings left off at Joseph’s declaration that God was not surprised by anything. He was working everything for our good and His glory. This week, we begin our readings many years after Joseph’s death. The Israelites (descendants of Jacob, aka Israel) have multiplied and are being used as slaves in Egypt because the Egyptians forgot that one time that God used Joseph to save everyone during the famine. I won’t lie: things looked pretty hopeless for God’s people. And then:
During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescure from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
This does not mean God had forgotten His promise. The way the Bible uses this term is more like, “God decided now was the time.” God decided that now was the time to rescue His people from slavery. So He did. We’ll read a bit about it this week.
God rescues them and then He sets up some ground rules. The purpose of these rules is to make it evident that they are His beloved. They are the people of promise. He loves them and He wants the world to know it. This love means God wants what is best for His people. He gives them commandments to keep. If they keep these commandments, they will be counted as righteous. Sounds easy enough, right? It isn’t. For centuries, the Israelites will groan under another kind of slavery—slavery to sin.
Another thing God established for the Israelites during this time is His presence. God dwelt in the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle and then the temple. There were all kinds of rules about this, too, because a most holy God cannot abide next to disobedient, sinful people. They needed a mediator, a priest, to go between them. And even those mediators weren’t perfect.
Eventually, after wandering in the desert and fighting a bunch of battles and seeing God provide for them over and over and over, the Israelites were in trouble. They were captured and sent into exile, away from their homes, away from their people, and away from the temple (where God dwelt). They once again needed rescue. It was during this time that God spoke through prophets, telling of a Rescuer that would come to His people.
The exile ended and God’s people were able to go home and rebuild the temple that had been destroyed. But the struggle was not over. There was still sin, still injustice, still idolatry, still death.
Then God was silent for 400 years.
This year, perhaps moreso than some others, it is easy to put ourselves in the shoes of the Israelites. It is easy to understand hoplessness. It is easy to wonder where God is in all of the chaos, pain, and anger around us. We know what it is like to hear God’s silence and to ask Him to remember.
But there is this: Even in the silence and the heartbreak, God’s people remembered His faithfulness. Jeremiah cries out, “Great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23). The Psalms recount the times God had been faithful even when the His people were not (Psalm 106). Balaam asks if God has ever made empty promises (Numbers 23:19) and the understood answer is no.
Hope is remembering God fulfills His promises. During Advent, we remember He fulfilled His greatest promise through Jesus. We remember the anticipation of His first coming and we look with hope to His second. And we sing,
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.