In truth, the most intense darkness cannot put out the light of a single candle. This is what we need to remember as we enter into the Advent time of the Christian calendar. Advent is a time of celebration at the “coming” or the first “appearing” of Jesus as Savior of the world. It is a time of preparation to receive the “King of kings” at Christmas in the form of a tiny baby. There are four Sundays in Advent, each with its own focus: hope, joy, love and peace. Perhaps at no time in my living memory has this nation (and the world) needed these four aspects of human life more than right now, at the close of 2020: hope, joy, love and peace.
As the first Sunday of Advent, the emphasis today is on HOPE. How many times in the last nine months have you said or thought, “I hope that……”? We hope for the end of pandemic; we hope our family and friends are safe; we hope for a vaccine soon; we hoped that the November election would go “our way” — whatever way that was. This year has been a time of dashed hopes, ruined dreams and aching disappointments. But this is not unusual; history is filled with human frustration, dissatisfaction and discontent. When people put their hopes in a fallen world, in political systems, in empty promises, in material wealth and self-satisfaction, there is little wonder why life lets them down.
Yet, Christian believers should be different in a world of despair. There are abundant passages in Scripture that speak to the people of God about hope in the Lord. The OT “wisdom literature,” particularly Psalms and the Proverbs, show us that humanity has often (and habitually) placed their hope in the wrong things. Repeatedly, wisdom tells us that we are to put our hope in the Lord, and in nothing less:
“We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you” (Ps 33:20; all emphasis is mine).
Certainly, one of my favorite passages is Isaiah 40:30-31:
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
In the NT, the Apostle Paul reminds us that,
“…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Ro 5:3).
Indeed, instead of asking God to take us out of suffering, we are grateful for his presence through the suffering, and that gives us hope.
Paul also tells us that the presence of the Holy Spirit within us is a constant source of hope:
“…for in this hope [of the Spirit] we are saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness…” (Ro 8:24-26).
That is, our hope in God is not like the worldly people who place their hope in physical things and ideal circumstances. Our eternal salvation is secure; so, we wait for all the promises of God, knowing they will be fulfilled. The Christian’s most important source of hope is within them: the “Spirit of God.” We wait for the second advent of Jesus, when all things will be set right (Rev 22:1-7, 12-20). In the meantime, and in the power of the Spirit, we rejoice in the present, no matter the worldly circumstances, and we have total confidence in the future, because we know who (not what) to trust:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Ro 15:13).
Christian hope cannot be extinguished by the hopelessness of the world. Our hope is in God; our salvation is in Christ, and our confidence is in the Holy Spirit, who safeguards our future. Thus,
“…the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned” (Isa 9:1-2; Mt 4:16).
“You are the light of the world…in the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:16).