It always surprises me that God does such extraordinary things with such insignificant people in desperate situations.
But as the prophet Zechariah reminds us, we should not "despise the day of small things" (Zech 4:10) because God does some of His best work with small beginnings and impossible situations.
Here is something I read the other day. You can see how frail and imperfect all the “heroes” in the Old Testament actually were:
Abraham, the coward who cannot believe the promise.
Jacob, the cheat who struggles with everybody.
Joseph, the immature and arrogant teen.
Moses, the impatient murderer who cannot wait for God.
Gideon, the cowardly Baal-worshipper.
Samson, the womanizing drunk.
David, the power abusing adulterer.
And finally, a very young Jewish girl from a small village in a remote corner of a great empire.
Whenever I read Old Testament stories, I find myself smiling and thinking to myself, “Wow, can you imagine what that must have been like?”
God often begins with small things and inadequate people. It reminds me of a song I used to sing when I was a teen called “Ordinary People” by Danniebelle Hall.
It certainly seems that God could have chosen "bigger" things and "better" people to do His work in the world. Yet if God can use them and reveal Himself through them in such marvelous ways, it means that He might be able to use me – inadequate, unwise, and too often lacking in faith that I am. And it means that I need to be careful that I don’t put limits on what God can do with the smallest things, the most unlikely of people, in the most hopeless of circumstances.
One of the truths that rang throughout the Old Testament is that endings are not always endings but are opportunities for God to bring new beginnings.
The season of Advent is about hope that human existence has meaning and possibility beyond our present experiences, a hope that the limits of our lives are not nearly as narrow as we experience them to be. It is not that we have possibility in ourselves, but that God is a God of new things and so all things are possible (Isa 42:9, Mt 19:26, Mk 14:36).
If our hope is only in our circumstances, as being good or as we want them to be, to make us happy then we will always be disappointed. That is why we hope, not in circumstances, but in God. He has continually, over the span of four thousand years, revealed Himself to be a God of newness, possibility, and redemption. He can transform what we see as endings into something that goes beyond what we can think or even imagine (Eph 3:20). The best example of that is the resurrection. Just when everyone thought it was over, Jesus rose from the dead. What a surprise that must have been! I’ll bet Satan didn’t see that one coming. Our greatest fear – death – had no power over us anymore!
Yet, it all begins in the hope that God will come and come again into our world to reveal Himself as a God of newness, possibility, and a God of new things. This time of year we contemplate that hope embodied in a newborn baby, the perfect example of newness, potential, and possibility. During Advent, we long for that newness with the hope, the expectation, and the faith that God will once again be faithful to see our circumstances, to hear our cries, to know our longings for a better world and a life made completely whole (Ex 3:7). And we hope that as He first came as an infant, so He will come again as King!
My experience tells me that those who have suffered and still hope understand far more about God and about life than those who have not. Maybe that is what hope is about: a way to live, not just to survive, but to live authentically amidst all the problems of life with a faith that continues to see possibility when there is no present evidence of it, just because God is God. That is also the wonder of Advent!