(We’re starting Advent a week early at our church — don’t ask — so I thought I’d try to share some thoughts on each of the major themes during the week …)
Person A: “I hope you can make it on Saturday?”
Person B: “I have a lot on my schedule this weekend, but I hope to be able to get away. We’ll have to wait and see.”
What is hope?
Based on modern usage of the word, one would assume it means a desire for an outcome that is unsure. We would like things to go in a certain direction, but reality is not yet clear.
We get this way of thinking from our Greek friend Plato, who described hope as purely psychological. According to him hope is merely a projection in our mind of what we would like to happen. It provides us with comfort and keeps us moving forward even if what we desire never actually comes true. It is something that is not at all fixed in reality.
The Jewish concept (and therefore, because all the biblical authors were Jewish, the Christian concept) of hope is much different than this airy, fairy world of make-believe mind games. Hope for the bible’s authors was something firm and solid, based on what God has done in the past and promised to do again. This concept of hope is a strong confident expectation and is based entirely on the faithfulness of God.
It is trusting God will do what he has promised and will come (which, of course, is what advent literally means).
It places its confidence in the very character of God.
Let’s step back for a minute or two and think about why hope is even something we need. Hope makes no sense unless you begin by thinking about the situation on the parched grounds of our lives that allows the first sprigs of hope to bloom.
Hope starts with despair. With a sense that things are not the way they should be. That something is off. That we need help. That tragedy, pain, suffering, poverty, injustice … they’re all very real.
And they hurt.
And it’s not fair.
And we cry out for help … or at least some kindness.
Hope is an affirmation that there is a God who hears the cries of his creation and will respond.
Hope looks at the history of God’s interventions in the world and says, ‘Why not now? Why not here? Why not for me?’.
This foundation and desire for something new — something fresh for today — moves to a trust that not only has He done the things He said He would in the past, but because He is faithful and good, and He will keep the many promises made to us. These promises show us what God WILL do. Promises like:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor, you have broken …
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.” (Isaiah 9:2-7)
(Christians now look at this prophesy as speaking to the coming of Jesus and with his coming the beginning of a new age – “the kingdom of God is here among you!” – and all the Jewish prophesies about the Messiah are now fulfilled in Jesus and available us here and now!)
At advent we join with people who throughout the centuries have anticipated the true light, which gives light to everyone, coming into the world. This light shone in the darkness and the darkness was consumed. This light reveals that God does hear the cries of his creation. He does see the pain and suffering. He joins with us in our despair and distress and proves He is faithful to overcome it all.
His goal is nothing less than new creation — a new world springing up from the old. Renewing what is dead and parched and less than it should be.
He will take everything our human tendency to screw things up has marred and broken (call it sin if you wish) and will breathe new life into it.
His coming gives us hope that something new can happen. That something fresh and unexpected can break through the cracks of our broken world. The Kingdom of Heaven is close and available to us!
I used to see Christ’s death on the cross as the centre of Christian faith (and in many ways it definitely is as it shows the extreme lengths to which God would go to restore his creation to Himself) — as if the only reason he came was to die — but the truth is so much bigger than that.
His coming to us as a baby, born to a mother after nine months in her womb, to his infancy, childhood, youth, and adult ministry to his death and resurrection are all part of God’s commitment to not leave us alone to deal with the many ways we have screwed things up. He will not leave us as orphans without parental love and care.
He has come.
He keeps coming.
He will come again.
That’s hope! That’s the starting point this Advent.
Come Lord Jesus!