A.K.A., “Yahweh Mikveh – Hope Incarnate”
My favorite Christmas movie is “The Nativity Story.” I watch it every Christmas Eve. The lighting, cinematography, and story line paint a realistic picture of the bleak circumstances into which Jesus was born. People were hopeless and fearful, struggling to eke out an existence from the barren land. God hadn’t spoken to them in 400 years. Surely he had forgotten them.
“Hope” means to anticipate, to have an expectation of something. Hopelessness results when our expectations have been shattered against the hard realities of life.
But God…had not forgotten them. A babe is born of a virgin and placed in a manger, fulfilling ancient prophecies. This little one, fully God and fully man, is hope incarnate, hope in human flesh. He is a light in the darkness, performing miracles and creating hope that salvation has come and God has not forgotten his people.
[In] the land of…Galilee of the Gentiles –
the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light;
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.
(Matthew 4:15-16, ESV)
But…hope seems to die as a sword pierces his mama’s soul and his own side. Two disciples sum up their grief and dashed expectations, saying “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).
And he was. Because hope had not died – it merely took a different form than what their expectations demanded. They wanted a conquering king; they received a suffering Savior, a sacrifice for the sins of the world. They wanted a ruler to overthrow the Romans; they received a Ruler who would overthrow the hold of Satan and sin on their lives. They wanted someone to change their circumstances; they received Someone who would change them from the inside out.
So where does that leave us when hopelessness threatens to engulf and overwhelm our own souls?
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
(Proverbs 13:12, ESV)
1. We realign the object of our hope; i.e., we realign our expectations and the source of our desires. Hope is a person, the presence of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 1:1). Our hope is not in what we want him to do for us, but what we want him to do in us. David experienced this in a very real way when he wrote Psalms 42 and 43. His enemies were oppressing him, he suffered physical agony, and he thought God had forgotten and rejected him. God wasn’t doing the things David hoped for and expected him to do. The answer? Changing focus. Hope in the Savior’s presence, and praise for His character. Three times David says:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,
My Savior and my God.
(Psalm 42:5 & 11, 43:5)
2. We grow in the maturity of our hope. Romans 5:3-5 explains the progression:
Suffering ==> Perseverance ==> Character ==> Hope
Does this mean we can’t have hope until we go through suffering? Not at all – Jesus has been the hope of the world since before he was born, since before time even began. He is the hope of all who believe in him at the moment of that belief. Our “blessed hope” is the return of Christ and spending eternity with him, and our transformation of becoming more like him while still on planet earth (Titus 2:13-14).
However, suffering is often what God uses to accomplish this transformation. It teaches us patience and endurance, building character. The word “character” conveys the idea of “approved as a result of a trial” i.e., tried and true character that has been molded and formed, like gold being refined in fire or clay being shaped by the potter’s hand. The result is a more mature hope that anticipates the glory of God as a result of our sufferings, and our future glory in His kingdom.
3. We fully submerge ourselves in Christ, losing our identity in His.
Interestingly, when Jeremiah calls God Yahweh Mikveh Yisrael, the Hope of Israel (Jeremiah 17:13), the word used for hope is mikveh. In everyday life under the old law, a mikveh was a small cistern of water, large enough for adults to fully submerge themselves for cleansing (see photo above). This was prescribed not only for various routine rituals, but also represented the transition of a Jewish convert’s old identity to his or her new one as a member of God’s covenant people. The immersion represented a burial of the old self and the rising of new life, symbolized in the Christian faith through baptism.
“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
(Colossians 3:3, ESV)
And so, Hope Incarnate is the person of Jesus Christ. Our hope is in his character and promises as revealed in his word. Our hope is his presence in us through the Holy Spirit, the transformation he works in us, and the future he promises us. Our hope is found in losing ourselves in Him, putting to death our old self and desires, and becoming a vessel for the display of his glory and workmanship.
In what situation do you need hope this week? Will you realign your expectations to reflect what God desires to do in you and in those you love, and not what you want him to do for you?
“…Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
(Colossians 1:27b, ESV)