This Advent, we’ll be meditating on the idea of Hope. It’s a trite word we throw around casually and misunderstand (and underestimate) profoundly. Today’s post is a meditation on Hope I wrote for the Advent Prayerbook my church put together. Get your own copy and engage all the more deeply in this season.
“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?”
–The Apostle Paul (Romans 8.24)
Jesus was likely born in Spring, not Winter. And yet, there seems to be such a wisdom and appropriateness to situating this Advent time of year during these Solstice days, when darkness envelopes all and the very air we breathe bites us back. Here, beauty is not seen in life, colors, and light; but in death, darkness, and night.
It is in this context we are invited to meditate on hope. And it is exactly the right context to do so. The vision and object of our hope is not seen because we walk in a world of Winter. We can’t see our hope; but we can see the darkness. The 16th-century pastor and theologian John Calvin said this beautifully:
To us is given the promise of eternal life—but to us, the dead. A blessed resurrection is proclaimed to us—meantime we are surrounded by decay. We are called righteous—and yet sin lives in us. We hear of ineffable blessedness—but meantime we are oppressed by infinite misery. We are promised abundance of all good things—yet we are rich only in hunger and thirst. What would become of us if we did not take our stand on hope, and if our heart did not hasten beyond this world through the midst of the darkness upon the path illumined by the word and Spirit of God!
Our hope lies swaddled in the night. Hard to see. Impossible to imagine. Terrorism grips nearly every shore. Poverty chokes our cities and neighborhoods. Life is radically, statistically different depending on your race, sex, or ethnicity.
It’s hard to see in the night. On one hand, our hope can become like a fanciful utopia that helps us escape the world: a future vision so disconnected from reality that, in our quieter moments, we might admit we don’t even really believe. In this case, hope is not hope; it is coping.
On the other hand, our hope can be choked off altogether in a mire of cynicism, narcissism, and irony. We end up running ourselves ragged into anxious frenzies of work, sex, money, and diversions, attempting to infuse our lives with enough meaning that we don’t need hope at all.
But we not only need hope, we need a certain kind of hope. In the darkness, we need to know light will come; in the Winter, we need to feel the pregnant pulse of Spring lying in wait all around us. Our hope needs to be infused with this world’s past, present, and future.
Advent is not just about mangers, shepherds, and Mary. It is about the world made right. Remember, there are two Advents. One was in a manger. But there is still another Advent to come.
The Advent truth—God entering into this world in Jesus—is the very basis of our future hope. All that Jesus did in the past secured our future. A hope that has nothing to do with both Jesus and this world is not hope. Hope is not a disembodied, utopian idealism. It is gritty realism that stands as a protest to the darkness in and around us.
It sits in death and darkness, hoping for Resurrection to come.
Just turn on the news. We need Advent hope. We can’t understand our world or our hearts without it. 17th-century philosopher J. G. Hamann once said, “Who could form proper concepts of the present without knowing the future?”
Looking at Jesus, we can know the future, and we can have hope. Because in Jesus, God’s future has come to our present.
Therefore we proclaim the mystery of the faith: Christ has come; Christ has risen; Christ will come again.