The first Sunday of Advent focuses on hope. As followers of Jesus Christ, we understand our hope is to be in him and not in our own abilities or in our circumstances. Even though we understand this is what the Bible teaches us, we’re still faced with a serious question: What exactly does “hope” in Jesus look like? Is the hope we have in Jesus the same as when we hope to do a good job or when we hope to find something we’ve lost? The New International Dictionary of the Bible says hope in Jesus is much deeper than this. It states “the biblical concept of hope is not mere expectation and desire… but includes trust, confidence, and refuge in the God of hope (Rom. 15:13).”
Matthew 11:18-25 says “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
Historians generally agree about three characteristics regarding Mary’s family: 1) They were poor; 2) They suffered because they were poor; and 3) They sought after God in the hopes he would bring them justice. Now, she is called upon by God to be the mother of the Messiah. While we tend to think of how blessed Mary was to be chosen for this honor, it is very likely her people didn’t view her pregnancy the same way we do. They would have regarded her as an adulteress because she conceived a baby out of wedlock. She was already looked down on by many people and was suffering because of her position in life. Now her suffering would only get worse.
Joseph’s background was different from Mary’s. While he suffered like everyone else who was under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, his place in society was fairly prominent. Verse 19 says he was a “righteous” man. The Hebrew word for righteous is tsadiq (tas Deek). A tasdiq studied, learned and observed the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament); obeyed the Jewish food laws; was faithful in attending worship at the synagogue and celebrated the Jewish holy days. This made him a very reputable man in Jewish society. Now, by all outward appearances, he was going to marry an adulteress who was carrying someone else’s child. Marrying her would ruin his reputation with the other tsadiqs. He would be viewed to be no better than a Gentile, which was about as low as a man could go.
Mary and Joseph destroyed their reputations when they obeyed God’s request to be the parents of the Messiah. God destroyed his own reputation among his people by chosing an adulteress and a disgraced tasdiq to be the human parents of his Son. In his book, The Jesus Creed, Scott McKnight writes, “Our reputation (what others think of us) is not as important as our identity (who we really are). Spiritual formation begins when we untangle reputation and identity, and when what God thinks of us is more important than what we think of ourselves or what others think of us.” Mary and Joseph were willing to let go of their egos and their reputations to be faithful to God. They did this because their hope in God was stronger than their hope in themselves or the things of this world.
What lessons can we learn from Mary and Joseph about putting our hope in God? When we put our hope in him through the work and ministry Jesus, we:
1) Accept the fact we will make mistakes. Mary and Joseph were human. This means they weren’t perfect parents to Jesus. They made mistakes. God knew this would happen yet he chose them to be the parents of the Messiah. When our hope is in God, we don’t worry as much about making mistakes because our hope isn’t in ourselves.
2) Make pleasing God more important than pleasing people. Mary and Joseph weren’t stupid. They knew their reputations would be ruined when they said “yes” to God but they said “yes” anyway. They were more concerned with what God thought than they were about what other people thought.
3) Trust God with the results. Roughly thirty-three years after Jesus was born as the Messiah, he was crucified on a cross like a common criminal. By all outward appearances, his ministry was a complete failure. Yet this was exactly what God wanted to happen. When our hope is in God, we trust him with the results even though we might not understand what’s happening.
As we continue through Advent and anticipate the coming of Jesus, where is your hope? Is it in yourself and your own abilities…or in God?