Walking in Hope
Hope is as silent as snowfall, as soft as dawn’s first glimmer, as sure as footsteps in sand.
The Christmas Season is in full swing, with its cast of characters swirling about in every imaginable way. The Nativity is lit near church steps, displayed in a handful of front yards, and portrayed in films and stages. Along with shepherds, donkeys, and camels, we have a lineup of reindeer, snowmen, the Grinch, elves, and the star of them all, Santa Claus. As if this melee of Christmas characters were not enough to remind us to be happy whether we want to be or not, advertisements twist our arms as they blare their holiday wares at every turn.
It is hard to pull hope out of this mess. Yet, hope is the meaning of the Advent Season, celebrating the birth of the Messiah, for whom the Jews had waited for generations, and our hopes in the future for His return. Even without the stress of the holidays, hope is hard to muster when life’s pressures, tragedies, physical and emotional challenges, and daily mishaps plague us relentlessly, causing even the most pious faith to falter now and then. Where is hope when we need it, and if Christmas offers us a double portion where in the candles, sermons, cantatas, and wrapping paper do we find it?
Almost an under-study in the Nativity scene, Joseph was so obscure we find ourselves checking to see if he’s a shepherd kneeling beside the Manger. He was a kid, a carpenter, and father-to-be. Like all of the citizens of his village, he had to leave his home and job to travel to Bethlehem, the village of his birth, to register his name for the Roman census. Perhaps the trip would have been only irritating, costing him weeks of productivity at best, but the mandatory journey was made nearly impossible because his betrothed wife, close to delivering their first child, huddled upon the back of his donkey.
Joseph shows us real hope. Because he chose to believe God, his faith never waivered. Trudging through sandy pathways, he could have entertained bitter and angry thoughts toward the Romans who imposed orders that kept him from work. Instead of kicking brush and throwing rocks, he walked on. The young carpenter could have fretted over his dwindling finances, yet with purpose richer than gold, he walked on. Surely he questioned the validity of his dreamlike encounter with an angel who called himself Gabriel and appeared in the middle of the night to tell him to stay with Mary. He could have succumbed to voices in his head telling him it was only a dream and there was no angel, and what was he doing pulling an ass laden with his pregnant girlfriend all the way to Bethlehem? On he walked. He could have led the donkey and whimpering Mary to one of the many caravans from the other villages and left her in their care. His tarnished reputation and burden would be solved. He knew he hadn’t gotten her pregnant and he didn’t know who had. “God” that angel had said.
Joseph trudged the harsh dusty road toward Bethlehem, tending to Mary as she became more and more uncomfortable, because he trusted God. From the sustenance of his Jewish religion upheld by the prophets’ decrees, and God’s own testimonies, he knew the promise that a Messiah would come to bring freedom for his people. Joseph walked in the living hope for the coming Messiah.
Often, God is not where we expect Him to be, and sometimes it seems He has left the scene, and we lose hope in Him. When we battle life’s onslaught of endless wars fighting for our faith, we must remember the big picture – God’s great purpose of bringing all people back to him. Our little chaos is a friendly skirmish with God’s intended Love covering it. Joseph had world of conflict on his shoulders, yet he believed in the essence of God Who promised not to leave him in the mess and He would bring good from it. As Joseph trod one foot in front of the other through the sand toward Bethlehem, his hope was in God. Upon the swaying braying donkey behind him, immersed in holy water, was the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Immanuel – “God with us”.