What do you hope for?
Hope is a key theme of Christmas. But it’s also a complex and elusive feeling. What does it mean, or feel like, to be filled with hope? How exactly do you put your hope in something or someone? And why is hope a key theme in advent?
A good part of our dilemma comes from the way we use the word hope in everyday English. In common parlance ‘hope’ means a desire that something will happen. Hope is wishful, and without certainty. I may hope for a particular gift under the Christmas tree.
Beyond that, hope can also mean an orientation. We can live in hope, believing that in general terms that things will move in a better direction. We hope that 2021 will be a better year than 2020. Hope then, is a conviction felt in the present, which motivates us to press on through our present struggles, to what we trust will be a more fulfilling future.
This is closer to the biblical idea of hope. Closer, but not the same. This approach to hope is partially grounded in beliefs about the inevitability of human progress. That we are all generally becoming more enlightened, better people, building a better society. The experience of 2020 challenges that. Selfish panic buying and hoarding. Global unequal access to health care. The behaviour of world leaders, on both sides of the Pacific.
Christian hope is not simply the idea that Jesus will help me through the pandemic, and make next year better (though it is possible he may!). Rather, Christian hope is a confidence of two things. First, Jesus is with me in whatever circumstances I am experiencing, whether they are getting better or worse. I know his presence, I have assurance that my circumstances and not outside his control, and God is using all circumstances to bring about his purposes.
Second, Christian hope is the knowledge that in Jesus, evil is defeated. Defeated in the present, though we still experience some of its consequences. Defeated and fully banished in the future. In Christ, in some sense, we already exist in that reality. In that kingdom, we live and belong. That is where our citizenship is.
In the everyday English sense of the word, I am hoping for a better 2021. In the Christian sense of the word, my hope is in Christ, his Lordship, and his imminent return to make all things right. Whether next year gets a little bit better or worse fades by comparison.
Rev David Rietveld
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