HOPE in a Discouraging World

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 preparation for the “coming” or the first “appearing” of Jesus as Savior of the world. It is a time of anticipation and “waiting” for the Lord and for the salvation he brings (see Lk 2:25-32). Historically, Advent has been a time to look forward to the future with hope; while traditionally, it has been a time of intentional reflection and service to the poor. In the midst of busy plans for Christmas in our culture, we must not overlook the fact that Advent is a season of preparation to receive the “King of kings” who broke into humanity 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. We desperately need hope, joy, love and peace.

On the first Sunday of Advent, my emphasis is on HOPE. How many times in the last year(s) have you said or thought, “I hope that……”? We hope for the end of a tenacious, mutating virus; we hope our family and friends are safe; we hope for less violence in the streets; we hope for a better economy, and we hope our military service members can come home safely… I really hope to see people I have not seen in months, and give hugs that are long overdue. We are living in a time of confusion and conflict, so I am hoping for reconciliation and a renewal of faith. History is rife 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.

Mary traveled to Bethlehem on the back of donkey. Nine months pregnant, she endured pain, discomfort, fear and distress.  Finally reaching their destination, any hope she had of the alleviation of pain with a bed and a blanket was crushed. Our beautiful, miniature nativity scenes in our living rooms do not tell the whole story. What hope did she have to deliver a healthy baby in a rustic barn, surrounded by animals, not nurses? But then, miraculously, the Savior of the world was born.

This reminds me of one of my favorite Christmas hymns, “O Holy Night:” “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til he appeared and the soul [the person] felt its worth; a thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

Then, the hymn goes on to reveal more truth: “Truly he taught us to love one another, his law is love, and his gospel is peace; chains shall he break for the slave is our brother; and in His name all oppression shall cease.”

Oppression is not a new thing, nor is “slavery” to the world and to its culture. Freedom in Christ is a gift (Gal 5:1-6). The injustice in the world today may be increasing substantially, or it may be that we simply see more of it because of social media. Injustice was very apparent in the days of Jesus and the Roman Empire. Regardless, while fear runs deep in our culture, Christians are “called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Gal 5:13-15).

Our God does care; he does respond. It is not naïve or unintellectual to know the hope, love, joy and peace that Jesus brought into the world. Indeed, the hope that he brought is in the “law of love” (Ro 13:8, 10). Jesus called us to love our friends and our enemies, even as a response to unfairness, untruths, accusations and oppression. Jesus never promised that his followers would live a carefree life. In fact, “if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Pet 2:20b-21).

Thus, Christian believers have hope 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: “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope….put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption” (Ps 130:5-7).

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 (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. Instead, the Christian’s most important source of hope is within him or her:  the “Spirit of God.” We continue to 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 despair and hopelessness of the world. Our hope is in God, and 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).

            Some children wait for Santa Claus with joy and anticipation. In the same way, we are waiting for Jesus…waiting with hope and joy and expectation, for his presence in our world.


Author: Judy

Christian educator, writer, specializing in the New Testament

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