The Dawning of Hope
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I Cor. 13:13 The Advent wreath contains four candles that represent faith, hope, love and peace. Each Sunday another candle is lit as we approach Christmas day. Our emphasis for the first week will be on hope.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Hope is often viewed as a future promise or wish. In secular terms, it is an optimistic mantra breathed with crossed fingers and an upward glance towards the universe. What does it mean to “think good thoughts”? Will our thoughts somehow converge into a best case scenario? Or are we simply holding our breath waiting for the final report, and breathing a collective sigh when the patient lives? By chance alone, fifty percent of our “hopes” will be affirmed, unless we hope for small certainties, like snow in the winter or rain in the spring. But Christian hope is far more daring. It is believing that the promises God made to Abraham and the prophets will somehow come true, in spite of evidence to the contrary.
Consider the hope that “He shall judge between the nations and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, neither shall they learn war anymore.” This was spoken at a time when the Jewish people were under constant threat of annihilation. To think that their God would somehow be the Lord of all the earth was a monumental hope, an impossibility. Yet when Jesus came the angels declared, “Peace to God’s people on earth!” Similarly, we are asked to believe that Christ will return, two thousand years after his resurrection. To have hope in this promise seems foolish and impossible, no matter how often we “think positive thoughts”. It will take divine intervention to bring it about. It requires the “Deus ex machina” of the Greek tragedy, when God arrives in a machine at just the right moment, to save mortals from irrevocable harm.
At Advent we look forward to the future hope by remembering God’s ability to fulfill his promises in the past. Abraham and Sarah had a son in spite of their old age; The children of Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry land; David slew Goliath with five smooth stones; Daniel survived the lions; God became flesh and dwelt among us. These are extraordinary events—singular events that will never happen again. They are evidence that the God who created the universe continues to be interested and involved in this world. He is the purveyor of hope.
“Lord we have unfulfilled hopes for ultimate peace, justice and love in this world. Hope that is fulfilled is no longer hope. During Advent we remember your faithfulness in fulfilling promises in the past and have faith to believe that you can do it again in our world. We wait with anticipation.” Amen