The hope of Advent

December 14, 2022
In Isaiah 9:1-7 we find the hope that is associated with Advent. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2). That source of light and promise is found in verse 6: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The birth of Christ, of which the ancient prophets foretold, and the return of Christ, for whom we wait with anticipation, is our continuing reason for hope. But is it enough?

We live in such a polarized society, and that polarization chips away at hope. Why are we so polarized? Politics is one reason. Studies suggest that strong initiatives from the Democratic party have functioned as major drivers of the great divide that emerged in recent decades between the Democratic- and Republican-leaning population. According to the Pew Research Center, areas of partisan divide include opposing stances on government regulation, the social safety net, homosexuality and gender, race and immigration, and economic fairness. As what are considered to be liberal-leaning beliefs and policies gain broad acceptance, it is not only Democrats and Republicans who are at odds. We also see division between people of different generations, gender, socio-economic standing, educational attainment, and race.

This is our hope. Even in the most polarized and divided of societies, Jesus came into the world. That was true in ancient Palestine, and it remains true today. Advent reminds us that Jesus is our touchstone.
But politics is not the only divisive mechanism at play. The United States is changing demographically and is estimated to become a majority minority country by 2044. Because the United States views itself as a white, Christian nation, increased demographic diversity and religious pluralism has sparked backlash, forcing the nation to contend with an existential question of identity. In his book “Majority Minority,” Justin Gest researched six majority-minority transitions in modern history to project how the United States might respond. He noted that some leaders were already falling into the patterns and practices that negatively impacted the societies he had studied. Gest writes, “Rather than inspiring new, broad forms of nationhood that leverage nationalism toward inclusion, some civic leaders are seeking to intensify support among their political or ethno-religious base.”

And sadly, the church has not been immune to these divisions. This country continues to see a rise in Christian nationalism, claiming the United States as a Christian nation that should remain as such. This stance should frighten any Baptist as we commit ourselves to maintain what Walter Shurden identified as the Four Fragile Freedoms: Soul Freedom, Bible Freedom, Church Freedom, and Religious Freedom. But even among the Baptist family, we see evidence of marginalization, discrimination, and disenfranchisement because all are not welcomed to live into the fullness of their authentic and God-given selves.

How then will we have hope when we are so divided? In his “Reflections for Advent and Christmas,” Michael Maher pondered a similar question in 1976. When he considered the state of the world, Maher cited a despair born of misery and suffering that contends against the hope of Advent. Even the church, in Maher’s opinion, was suffering from exhaustion. Nevertheless, he asserted that Christ’s coming into the world was not to eliminate all suffering and anxiety in the world. Jesus said so himself, “…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV). Jesus came into the world so that we might have his example to sustain us. He lived among us as the least of these – a marginalized, oppressed minority – demonstrating radical inclusion and reconciliation for all who would receive him.

This is our hope. Even in the most polarized and divided of societies, Jesus came into the world. That was true in ancient Palestine, and it remains true today. Nevertheless, Jesus’ coming does not anesthetize us from the challenges we face. Rather, it does and should inspire us to keep going. As Maher notes, “[Advent] encourages us to keep playing our part in the task of completing the Savior’s work of bringing exterior justice and interior salvation into the world.”[i] So, what does it mean for us to play our part? It means that when we see polarization, we must work to bring people together. When we see nationalism that threatens to exclude, we must help people to widen the aperture so that those on the margins are included. And when we see exhaustion in the church, we must remind one another that we cannot grow weary in doing well. Instead, Advent reminds us that Jesus is our touchstone. We must come back to him again and again because Jesus is our source and supply.

The hope of Advent shows us God’s unfailing love, which was demonstrated by Jesus’ victorious incarnation and in him, our hope is sustained as we await his return.

Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson is Dean of The Business School at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a premiere Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) based institution recognized for project-based education that integrates the theory and practice of management and prepares students to assume positions of leadership in an increasingly global business environment while yielding societal impact. She is the author of  Meant for Good: Fundamentals of Womanist Leadership, published by Judson Press.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

[i] Maher, Michael. “Reflections for Advent and Christmas.” The Furrow, vol. 27, no. 11, 1976, pp. 597–605. JSTORAccessed 12 Nov. 2022.


Don't Miss What's Next

Get early access to the newest stories from Christian Citizen writers, receive contextual stories which support Christian Citizen content from the world's top publications and join a community sharing the latest in justice, mercy and faith.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This