Tuesday, December 18, 2007

HOPE INTENSIFIES

TIME RIPENS. I read the first chapter of Luke this morning and concluded it is about the intensification of hope. There are two pregnancy announcements and one birth. Under usual circumstances, no big news among Judean Jews living at the time of King Herod. But these are no usual pregnancies and there's nothing ordinary about Zechariah and Elizabeth's newborn child. By the time the baby--peculiarly named "John"--is born, it is clear that God is moving in a powerful way, time is ripe, and prophecies are beginning to be fulfilled.

FORERUNNER BORN. Long ago, a prophecy had described one who would precede the promised Messiah (anointed one, savior, deliverer). Isaiah 40:1-12 prophesies of one who would "prepare the way for the Lord," going before the Messiah to help people be prepared to receive him. This was no vague recollection. One of the anticipated signals that Messiah was coming would be the appearance of a great prophet. And that's what Zechariah and Elizabeth have on their hands.

FAR OFF NO MORE. So, hope that had been nothing more than a series of written prophecies now begins to come into focus. Hope that for generations had seemed nothing but a candle flickering against a dark horizon now grows and brightens. What had always been off in the distance now comes into view. "Someday" begins to be marked not by generations or decades or years, but by months and days.

SIGN: BOXES WITH MY NAME ON THEM! Hope intensifies with specific actions that signal fulfillment will actually occur. When I was a child, early in December and with Christmas way off in the distance, I would draw a circle around toys pictured in the thick Sears & Roebuck "Wish Book." My mom would make "do you really need that?" queries and "I don't know" put-offs. I would state why one toy was better than another and make rational appeals. I didn't know which--if any--of my "wishes" might come true. For the longest time there seemed to be no evidence that any of my efforts had made an impact. Then, a week or so before Christmas, packages would begin to appear here and there. Wrapped boxes with my name on them! It was a sure sign that something of my hopes would be realized. I had no idea what was in the boxes, but there were boxes! This thing was really going to happen!

SIGN: JOHN IS BORN! This thing of a Messiah, long ago promised and wished for, was really going to happen. The sign was a promise from an angel to an old priest, confirmed as his elderly wife became pregnant, and fulfilled at the birth of a son whose given name was "John." By the time Zechariah lets loose with a jubilant utterance, all in the community know that they're living on the edge of time. Hope intensifies.

WHAT'S YOUR SIGN? What intensifies hope in you? What are some signs or signals that bring hope more into focus? For me, sometimes, it is a Scripture reading that comes alive in confirmation or challenge. Sometimes, it is inspiration in an old hymn or contemporary Christian song. Sometimes, it is the presence and likeness of Christ that I encounter in the lives of others. Sometimes, it is the witness of the Holy Spirit with my spirit. Sometimes, it is what is experienced in the gathered community of faith. These varied experiences and different kinds of encounters intensify my hope and inspire me to live today as if the promised future were just around the corner--as good as done.

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