Advent is a season of hope but hope seems so elusive. We don't hear much about hope. Could you explain it?
True, we seem to take hope for granted. Yet, today, we know that too many young people lose hope and life without hope loses meaning. We know that tough economic times have caused many to be robbed of their energies and get drawn into despair.
One can live without food or drink for several days but one cannot live without hope. Take wealth and health away and people can continue to function, but take away hope and they cannot survive.
It was hope, however faint at times, that gave the ancient Hebrews the strength to keep on struggling during their trials but especially during the exile.
When reading the psalms or the prophets, one is struck by the hope of deliverance by God following the expression of suffering and almost despair. The hope is that God will send a king, a messiah who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world.
It was hope that soon they would be with Christ that gave the early Christian martyrs the strength to endure unbelievable suffering. It was a hope based on God and anchored in Jesus victorious over death which enabled them to triumph.
What is Christian hope? Hope is one of the theological virtues and it is encompassed by faith and love so it is vital to our Christian lives.
Hope appears at least 75 times in the New Testament in some of its most important passages.
Hope is faith in actual practice each day. Faith is the conviction that God who conquers all evil is in charge. Hope is the inner assurance that God, who is love, fills our lives with blessings.
Hope knows that all things work together for the good of those who love God; that life is for us, not against us. Hope is a ray of light that shines in the present and into the future, finding silver linings in every cloud.
Isn't that just optimism? Positive thinking or optimism focuses on ourselves and on external elements to build a better future.
But for Christians there is another way. Hope is grounded in the conviction that God is in control, that the course and destiny of our lives are in God's hands. Christian hope is a secure anchor for we are anchored in Jesus who was victorious over death.
Throughout Paul's writings we see the prominent place hope takes in his life. He often speaks of the redemption of the body and the resurrection of the dead. For him, not to believe in the resurrection of the dead is to be without hope.
In Romans, we hear: "Since we are justified we have faith. . . . We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God . . . and hope does not disappoint us because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us" (5.1-5).
Advent is all about hope. It is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of joy all wrapped into one. John the Baptist invites us to repent, to fill the valleys and straighten the paths to Christ. We are to open ourselves more fully to the Lord who comes to us each day.
We are to build the kingdom in preparation for Christ's second coming as we wait in hope to join him: "I will come back and take you to be with me that you may be where I am" (John 14.3).
This hope brought strength and consolation to Christians through the ages and continues to do so amidst the suffering of today's world.
Doesn't hope in the future lead to passivity in the present life? Hope is an expression of the present alive with possibilities for the future. Hope activates our energies; it leads to action. Witness the good done by Christians in the world throughout the centuries. Rooted in hope and knowing the best is yet to come inspires them to an active, giving life.
Christian hope leads them to bring hope to: the poor and lonely, the sick and suffering, the abandoned and neglected as Jesus did during his earthly life.
We see this throughout the year but particularly in this season of hope. We see this done in many ways and especially Christmas dinners prepared and lovingly served by volunteers who give of their goods, their time and energy.
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