The Advent of Hope
A Reflection on Luke 1:26-45
Chris Ellis

If you could go back to the start of this year and tell folks everything this year would encompass, they wouldn’t believe you, and rightly so. We’re 9 months into a global pandemic that has taken the lives of over 250,000 of our fellow citizens and disrupted every aspect of our lives, including not being able to worship in our church since March. We’ve had the most important racial reckoning since the Civil Rights Movement. We’ve suffered the drastic repercussion of climate change including the worst wildfires on record in the West, and the busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record. We’ve lost stars too young like Chadwick Boseman and Kobe Bryant. Finally, our country can’t even agree on the basis of what counts as truth. We are living in a difficult year that feels like it will go on in perpetuity.

Those living at the time of Jesus’ birth knew something of difficult times as well. Their life wasn’t one of ease, comfort or security.  If you were lucky, you’d live to see your 40th birthday because death, disease and starvation were always knocking at your door. The homeland you loved was oppressed by an outside political power who constantly had their heel on your neck.  Just day-to-day survival consumed one’s life.  

In spite of this context, and maybe because of it, first century Jews held onto hope that they would be redeemed out of exile. Hope that their God would come and right the many wrongs of the world. Hope that Yahweh would come and that the poor and oppressed would be set free. Hope that the way the world was, wasn’t always the way it would be.  All of this is the background and setting to the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary in Luke 1:26-45 to declare that she was highly favored and that though she was a virgin she would give birth to a son, and that she would name Jesus. 

A millennia later, this palpable sense of hope, expectation and deliverance despite the life before one’s eyes is captured by one of the most celebrated and revered Advent hymns, O Come O Come Emmanuel, which has its origins from monks in the 9th century. Take a moment, get comfortable, close your eyes and feel the palpable sense of expectation this song brings forth from your soul. 


“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Here we are 1,000 years after the first singing of this song and 2,000 years after the birth of Christ and 2020 came along to destroy any illusions of control and order we thought we had. We thought we were masters of our environment and that ‘mastery’ has slowly come to our undoing in the form of climate change, unsettled political discourse, and Covid-19. 2020 has reminded us that we are frail creatures of dust and that we should also hope for the coming of Emmanuel.

But Mary’s hope wasn’t one that was distant and removed from her own action.  In a very real and bodily way, she had to be a willing participant to hope.  Luke 1:38 says, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” She didn’t say, “Nope, I don’t want to participate and wear a mask,” or simply dismiss the greeting because she didn’t like it and say “nope that’s fake news and I’m not going to believe it.” She said yes. Yes, to hope that would demand something of her even though it didn’t demand the same thing of everyone else. Yes, to hope that would change her life.  Yes, to hope that would open her up to pain and loss. She said yes, because she believed the world would rejoice with the coming of Emmanuel and that she had a role to play in that coming.

Hope was birthed in its fullest when the angel visited Mary. Hope that the world might change.  But hope doesn’t live in the past because our God doesn’t live in the past. Hope is always being birthed anew in every time and place. You see it when you see teachers working tirelessly to teach kids online, and in their classroom, so each will have what they need. You see it when firefighters endlessly battle the flames so one less home is destroyed. When nurses keep giving of themselves to ensure one less person dies of Covid. You see it when the scales of racial ignorance and indifference fall off the eyes of many. Hope is all around, if you choose to see it. 

This advent, how can you be a willing participant to hope? How can you do your part to ensure the world rejoices with the birth of Emmanuel? 

 The world, and I, hope you will. 

-Chris Ellis


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