Today is the start of a new season and series. Advent. The arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
Many people would say that in September of 1998 when the advent of Google happened, it was a world changing day.
In Christianity, Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It sometimes involves a wreath or a circle of four candles with a white candle in the middle. And the focus of advent is preparation for Christmas. The celebration of what Christmas represents. Preparing by focusing on hope, peace, joy, love, and Christ.
The intention is not just so you can celebrate Christmas really well. The focus is to live life with Christ really well after the holiday celebrations cease.
Scott remembers what seemed to be a painful, visible, slow motion countdown to Christmas as a child at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Upsala, Minnesota. As part of the Sunday service, someone would quietly light the candle lighter tool, awkwardly walk up to the advent candles, recite some scripture and light the candle of the week.
Only three more to go - four really if I count the white one in the middle. Am I going to make it to Christmas?!
What about your Christmas traditions?
When you are asked about your Christmas traditions, what comes to mind?
The first week of Advent is focused on hope. The Bible has a lot to say about hope.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
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.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
These are some references to a biblical concept of hope. But what is it?
What is hope?
What is added to life when hope is present? What is missing from life when hope is absent?
Zach really loves christmas. The day after halloween 2020 when it was 60 degrees in Minnesota, do you know what Zach was listening to? Yep, that’s right. Christmas music.
Some years are hard and Christmas can feel like a hopeless season. It can feel like lack of hope affects our ability to prepare for life. Some years are more hopeful and full of celebration.
In Christianity, this season is centered on the arrival of the notable person Jesus. It’s also a celebration and hope of Jesus’ second coming. And with it, anticipation of a future that is better than the present.
This anticipation can be centered on a negative thing improving or waiting for a positive thing. Hoping that you can recover something that was stolen from you. Hope as you wait for the birth of your child. Two very different situations both centered on hope.
Think about your own scenarios. In either negative or positive situations, what are some things that you have hoped for in your own life? How did that hope come to be? Did you have to muster it up or did it just “show up?” Was it immediate or was it a process?
Think about something you have hoped for in your life. How did hope come to be?
Hope is an amazing thing and it carries a lot of weight and power, but sometimes we can direct that weight and power at the wrong thing. We can put my hopes into the wrong thing or a wrong outcome.
This picture we see in scripture of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem just before his death is a pretty in depth story, something that we remember and celebrate in church as Palm Sunday.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Hearing this story it’s easy to think that these people were fully aware of who Jesus was and why He was on earth. That they were hoping for the right things in the right ways. But what was really going on was that many people saw Jesus as their means to freedom from political oppression from Rome. They saw Jesus as this leader who would finally come set them free from this tyrannical government that had been oppressing them. And we see through biblical narrative that Jesus doesn’t come to set people free from this kind of oppression, but instead to set people free from sin and fulfill the law on behalf of every person who was powerless to do it for themselves.
Do we sometimes put our hope in the wrong Jesus?
Hope that lasts requires that we see Jesus as who He is, not who we think He should be.
A word that pops up in the old testament for hope is Qavah. It represents the tension you feel in a piece of rope when it's pulled tight. The bigger picture showing the tension felt in waiting when things are tight.
If you google search “how to get hope”, you’ll probably find a lot of self-help type articles. It’s likely that the hope the Israelites were looking for was much more communal, having little or nothing to do with self-help or finally getting personal hope.
This waiting can be very difficult.
Why can waiting sometimes be so difficult?
What is the difference between waiting with hope and waiting with despair?
In the tension of waiting we can feel or experience a lot of things.
We might wonder what the outcome will actually be in regards to something we’re waiting for.
We might be waiting in hopeful expectation for something positive and we just want it to be here. Culturally, we probably struggle with waiting more than any other time in human history because our lives are centered around doing everything we can to not have to wait for anything.
We do want everything now, and for the most part we have access to it.
Food? The grocery store. Or if that’s too much work, taco bell.
Obviously the people of the bible had a different experience when it came to waiting.
People were waiting for God himself. To help, to step in, to rescue.
Biblical hope is not a picture of circumstantial or optimistic hope.
I hope this situation turns out.
I hope because I’m an optimist and I’m just ignoring what’s going on.
Hopeful people in the bible recognized that there wasn’t evidence that things would get better, but they chose hope anyway. It’s God’s past faithfulness that motivates hope for the future. Trusting in God’s character that has been seen before.
Biblical hope is a bit crazy. It’s waiting and believing that God will bring about impossible outcomes even when we can’t see evidence otherwise.
Again, people in old testament times waiting for the fulfilment of this text. And not just waiting a couple months. Hundreds of years.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7:
Paul speaks to this concept of hope.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
All of these pictures of hope happen over a process of time. They all have elements of holding onto belief in something even when the evidence in front of you says not to.
And this hope that the first week of advent is centered around is hope in Jesus. Not hope that he will fix all of my problems and make my life perfect. But hope that God will free us from sin. That He will fulfill all things through Jesus. That his promises will happen. This is the hope the people of the old testament were holding onto and this is the hope God invites us into.
The reality is Christmas will end. 2021 will come. A vaccine will probably succeed and covid will pass. And new things will pop up that tempt us to be hopeless. How do we cultivate hope long term, not just one time?
How can someone consistently cultivate anticipatory hope instead of despair?
“Hope in 2020” can feel like an oxymoron. Have hope in this season? I just hope my family and I are able to survive it with our relationships intact.
What does life look like with hope removed?
It looks like a whole lot of quitting, walking away, and giving up.
Hope flies in the face of this. Hope says I do believe things get better, relationships can be restored, lives can be changed, and reconciliation is possible.
Hope says I will take responsibility for myself and my commitment to journey, to process, to grow, to deepen my understanding, and to build my empathy.
Walking away from hope makes life small, but embracing hope has an exponential effect on life.
Hope says each moment and each interaction is full of possibility.
The Israelites knew waiting. They understood hope. For generations they waited in anticipation of the Messiah. In hope they existed.
Just imagine this.
Having a land promised to you, and then having a famine that forces you to leave.
Becoming enslaved in the land you fled to.
Finally escaping to only wander in the wilderness for decades.
Finally arriving in the promised land but having to fight battles to take it.
Finally establishing a new nation in this land only to have civil war tear it apart.
Having your land and nation conquered over and over again by different groups.
Eventually the Romans conquer you, and there’s an attempted revolt that leads to the destruction of the temple. Your temple. Where you could interact with the presence of god.
The place and opportunity for connection with God almighty is no more.
So now what?
It almost seems like each step of the way things get worse for these people.
How did these people continue to have hope after so many setbacks?
It was in this seemingly hopeless moment that little baby Jesus arrived on the scene.
Can you feel the contradiction of this moment in history?
With a history like Israel I’d expect hope to arrive in a much different form than a little baby.
I can actually completely understand why the Israelites of the day often struggled with seeing Jesus as the Messiah. And maybe that’s the point.
Maybe hope isn’t supposed to be contingent on circumstances or our own ability to see a path forward.
Maybe hope looks a lot more like baby than warrior
No matter your current circumstances hope is accessible.
It may not look like what you want it to look. But hope is a choice.
What does it look like for you to cultivate hope?
Take It Deeper Questions
Read Jeremiah 29:11
What are your plans for this Christmas season?
How has COVID impacted your plans?
How can hope and challenging circumstances be a reality?
What is God given hope?
How do the words in Jeremiah challenge you, frustrate you, focus you and/or encourage you?
Bible Reading Plan