Hope sets the course for our lives, as our hope determines our daily actions. But often we go through life putting our hope in that which has no ultimate importance. Christmas redefines hope, showing us what is ultimately valuable, and it demonstrates how God transforms our lives and the entire world.
Hope defines the story we live in and the actions we take. All our actions presuppose a hope that fulfills a story line. All our life is spent acting out stories of hope that we tell ourselves, but the all-important question is this: Is our existence part of a story with an ultimate hope and an ultimate point, or do we just live and die and that is the end of it?
The Christmas story can be read as God’s answer to this question. Whether people know it or not, they are part of a grand story that is focused on an ultimate hope, and the name of that hope is Jesus.
This is illustrated by the story told in the focus scripture above. Simeon looked forward to the “consolation of Israel,” which is a reference to an Old Testament theme of Israel returning from exile and being restored to the nation God always wanted her to be. Thereby, other nations would be drawn into the covenant Yahweh had with Israel. This is why Simeon describes the consolation of Israel as salvation for all peoples and a light of revelation to the Gentiles. This consolation depended upon the coming of the Messiah. Simeon lived in hope of this consolation and was promised that he would not die until he saw that Messiah. This one hope was the one thing that was keeping Simeon alive, as he said after seeing Jesus, “Now you are dismissing your servant in peace.”
Simeon lived in, and was completely invested in, God’s ultimate story that was much bigger than him. His ultimate hope was wrapped up in the ultimate hope of Israel, which was to be liberated from exile and fulfilling her mission to be a light of revelation to the Gentiles. Simeon perfectly illustrates the biblical conception of faith: future oriented, hope-centered faith. It’s a faith that yearns to see God liberate the world from its oppression by sending a Messiah.
When the Messiah came, they expected the nations to be transformed by the revelation of the true God, but there is one problem: It didn’t happen! Jesus gave people every reason to believe he was indeed God’s Messiah, but he didn’t liberate and restore Israel. In fact, not only did Jesus not defeat Israel’s enemy, which was Rome, he let himself get crucified by the Romans!
The most radical thing Jesus revealed about the story of God is that God is other -oriented love, and that God always operates by means of love, not power. The hope of the world is found in cruciform love. As Paul wrote: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). The cross looks like weakness to the natural mind, but to those of us who accept this revelation, the cross is the power of God. It is the means by which all things are being transformed.
Most Jews expected a Messiah who would rely on coercive violent power to accomplish God’s will, something that can be done quickly. Jesus acknowledges that he could rely on this kind of power if he wanted to, but coercion and violence is not the way of God. The way of God is the slow way of cruciform love. Coercive force and violence bring about fast changes that can look like improvements in the short run, but that always brings about more destructive violence later on. By contrast, humble, other-oriented love works slowly, requires patience, often requires one to be willing to suffer.
We live in a story of God’s love, a love that is transforming everything. This is our ultimate hope. And like Simeon, we can set our lives within this ultimate hope and invest our lives in what God is doing through cruciform love, or we can miss out and invest in what does not ultimately matter.
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