Hope is God’s gift to us as surely as forgiveness, provision, breath, shelter, life. The season of advent beginning today reminds us of this.
Rome was an empire of utmost power, considered the jewel of the world, a civilization of dignity, unlike any other before its time. The Romans were thought more enlightened because they did not impose foreign religion on the countries they occupied. They allowed local culture to flourish and by such a tactic won the right to rule with an appearance of kindness and moderation. To many, Rome was the hope of the world. Such “hope” surely should be spread everywhere. Their military conquests were cast in such light, supported by such logic. Roman expansion seemed warranted by the dictates of reason.
By contrast, Mary was a young woman of no account (a teenager, in fact) in a small, unimportant town situated to the north of a country that was considered marginal at best by the Roman empire. The man to whom she was engaged to be married was but a carpenter in this small town.
Caesars do not come from people like Mary and Joseph, do they? Kings do not come from Nazareth. And the child to come would not only be a king of Israel, he would be a king of all. As Simeon said: this child would be “a light for…the Gentiles and for glory to…Israel.” (Luke 1:32) But emperors do not come from places like Cañon City, Colorado. Do they?
Joseph had his hands full with plans to make a respectable life with his bride-to-be. As a worshiper of God, he no doubt knew well his dependence on God to provide food, shelter and clothing for his wife and future children. A regular blessing recited by Joseph and his people blessed God for the miracle of "fruit from the vine" and food from the earth. Such provision was seen as miraculous enough to someone like Joseph. And Mary—to be faithful to such a man and such a life was devotion enough. What more could anyone expect? Indeed, what more could God expect? Certainly they should not expect a commission by the Most High to carry, birth and nurture their heavenly Father’s very Son—the one by whom all nations and individuals on earth would rise or fall—the one by whom time would be newly reckoned in succeeding generations.
This is the way God gives hope, a lifting of heads intent on the everyday, a setting of sights on a horizon that stretches not beyond apartments and short, uncharted streets but towards them. The lost places of the world become the hiding places of God, the place deep in the sea with forgotten treasure. You would never expect to find God by your neighbor’s tool shed, but there he is. What hope!