A Future and a Hope
December 18, 2015
I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11, RSV)
On the first Sunday of Advent, we worshipped in a church in the Los Angeles area. They lighted the first candle of the Advent wreath, representing hope. After the candle was lighted and was burning visibly, the speaker talked about sources of hope. I glanced back at the candle and could see no flame. I whispered to my wife, “The candle has gone out.” But after few seconds, the flame reappeared brighter than ever. It had flickered and become dim and short, hidden by the rim of the large candle, but had not gone out and as the little flame melted more wax, the fire began to burn higher and more brightly, reassuring the worshippers.
This seemed to me to be the way hope frequently works. In some situation, we hope that there will be a good outcome. Often our hope is nothing more than a wish, because it is not based on trust in God, but hope briefly burns brightly. Then, when the desired outcome does not happen, we become discouraged and despairing, thinking hope has failed like a candle whose flame has disappeared.
It is easy to become so discouraged by events in our world that our hope wavers and threatens to go out. A husband who has been sober for months’ relapses, gets drunk and beats his wife. A young man is diagnosed with cancer. A middle-aged man who has worked for one company for 30 years is downsized in a merger. An older woman’s dementia advances to where she doesn’t recognize her husband of more than 50 years. In a confrontation with police, a black man is killed and a policeman wounded. A deadly disease kills hundreds in West Africa. At a European border thousands of refugees pour in, fleeing civil strife and murderous religious fanaticism. Where is hope in all that? Only God can bring hope in such situations.
God does not fail. With Max Ehrmann, we affirm, “Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” Like the candle flame that was rekindled in the Advent wreath, God, on a schedule we don’t know, answers our prayers and hope is renewed. Hope is not wishful thinking; hope is confident expectation in God’s promises. As John Piper puts it, “hope is faith in the future tense.”
Oliver Goldsmith wrote of hope,
“Hope, like a gleaming taper’s light,
Adorns and cheers our way;
And still, as darker grows the night,
Emits a brighter ray.”
As Christians, we know hope as one of the cardinal virtues of our faith. Despite that knowledge, sometimes we find it hard to hold onto hope. Yet, if we persevere in expecting God to fulfill divine promises, eventually hope will grow. In Romans 5:3-5, Paul says, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” Just as regular exercise strengthens our bodily muscles, regular practice of faith, hope, and love strengthens us spiritually.
In this Advent season, as we look forward with hope not only to the birth of God in the form of the baby Jesus, the Word become flesh, but also to the ultimate consummation of the world when God’s promises become reality and hope is realized, let God’s hope encourage us in every distress and brighten every winter day.
Prayer: Holy God, who gives us a future and hope, let your hope burn brightly in our hearts despite discouraging circumstances in the world around us. We trust your plans for our future and your steadfast love and mercy. We thank you for the hope found in the birth of a baby on Christmas morn.