READINGS: Luke 1-4, Luke 2:1-5, Hebrew 11: 1-6, Revelation 21:1-26
Yesterday’s ADVENT reading was on expectancy. Today, our reading centers on hope. Though similar concepts, expectancy and hope are different in meaning. Spiritually we believe the Word of God and anticipate specific happenings based on the prophetic. We believe that Jesus will come again– as God’s Messiah and triumphant King of the universe. We believe that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Belief is an active commitment of our will, our psyche, based on fact or presumption of fact. Our belief that Christ will come again is predicated on Christ’s coming (ADVENT) that we celebrate in this season.
It is a historical fact corroborated by witnesses that Jesus of Nazareth, who we call God’s Christ was born in Bethlehem to Joseph and Mary of Nazareth. This was recorded in the census of Caesar Augustus in the Roman annuls. It is of historical record. Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, recorded facts about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, whose earthly parents registered him in Bethlehem as a person of the Jewish nation under Roman occupation because Joseph was of the household or lineage of King David of Bethlehem. Indeed, Josephus, though not specific about Jesus’ birth, does record a census taken when Quirinius was governor over Syria, likely this second census, while Luke records Quirinius’ first census. Augustus ordered censuses to be taken regularly in various provinces throughout his reign and Luke records the birth of Jesus Christ during one of them (http://crossexamined.org/really-census-time-caesar-augustus/). Based on this fact, we know that what the prophets had foretold years before (See Micah 5:2) came to pass in Bethlehem of Judea on terra firma. Therefore, we believe that these events took place, based on Luke’s account, as the ancients of Israel expected it to take place. So, expectancy is a belief, an anticipation based on facts; it is just waiting for something to happen based on the line up of the facts.
Similar, but slightly different, is the concept of hope. Whereas expectancy is anticipation of a specific event based on specific facts, therefore in the realm of cognition (thinking), hope has an emotional, but not irrational, component. God deals in the totality of human makeup. Humans think, have emotions, and exhibit internal and external behavior. Our thinking inspires our emotional reactions and our behavior — whether displayed in action or physiological response. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made; in the image and likeness of God.
But human beings need hope. Irvine D. Yalom, the famous existential psychotherapist, maintains that one of the essential elements of therapy that engenders positive change in the lives of those experiencing distress or despair is the instillation of hope (Yalom, The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, 2005). Existential psychotherapy deals with concepts having to do with existence, such as death, alienation, freedom and meaning; and hope is an essential element in fostering positive human change.
As followers of Christ, hope is the key building block of faith. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Hope is substantive, though embodied in a feeling or emotion. Hope has objects onto which it is projected, i.e., “things hoped for…”. We attach things to our hope. Hope is a longing for things not yet manifested. Sarah, well into menopause, and Abraham past the age of fathering, hoped against hope. (Romans 4:18) Hope is an internal yearning that manifests itself in faith. Hope is the strong desire for a thing to happen. In fact, hope is desire + expectancy.
Now some talk of blind faith, but I contend there is no such thing as blind faith. Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, thus one sees the thing hoped for in their mind’s eye, before it is manifested in the earth. This is why Yalom can so accurately say that the efficacy of therapy is built in large part on the therapist’s instillation of hope for a client in despair. In the Greek hope (elpizo) is a human need like air and water. Take away hope and we rob ourselves of true meaning throughout life’s times of despair. Hope is fervent trust in one who has been proven worthy to be trusted. Strong’s Concordance speaks of a hope centered in a person. Indeed, our hope is centered in the person of Jesus, God’s Christ.
In my short life time I have lived in a world characterized by my grandparents’ hope, during a World War and the Korean War (in which they lost their oldest son). My parent’s post war hopes, produced baby boomers and their fervent efforts in the Civil Rights and Peace Movements. I have lived through the materialism of the 80’s and 90’s. In the past ten years, I returned to my paternal grandfather’s, maternal grandmother’s and mother’s roots in organic gardening. We have come full circle from slave, farmer, gardener, hippie (commune dweller) to hipster, local artisan. Times change, yet there is nothing new under the sun. Every generation since the birth of Christ has had reason to make comparisons between their perilous time and the times of the Bible. Indeed, I do so also.
None of our human made inventions have ever sufficed to bring us hope. Not monarchy, presidency, democracy, nor communism, inspires much needed true hope. Neither conservatives nor liberals; Republicans, nor Democrats; organic nor conventional; home school, charter private nor public schools; managed healthcare nor universal care; materialism, existentialism, relativism, nor absolutism, while they offer, can give me the hope I so desperately crave. In fact, in these times, they often have the propensity to engender despair. Therefore, none are the object and center of my trust. Only one can handle my despair. Another existential psychotherapist, Viktor Frankl, who lost his entire family during Hitler’s persecution of Jews during World War II, defines despair as, “suffering without meaning” (Man’s Search for Meaning, 1946). The meaning ascribed to my life at this time in history in this season of my existence rest in the salvific work of Jesus, who I believe to be God’s Christ.
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus name. On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.
Christ has come (ADVENT), Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come (ADVENT) again! Amen.