“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast” said the poet Alexander Pope. And it is indeed an almost incontrovertible facet of human character to hope in spite of the circumstances. It is what keeps people buying Toto numbers despite the fact that you are 60 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to strike lottery. It is why people often drop more money into the claw games than the prize on offer is worth. Yet for most, what is meant when they say “I hope” is actually something more like “I wish…”
As we continue to move deeper into the Advent season, the readings express the fact that God is a “God of hope.” And the waiting we are called to, is rooted in hope. In fact Paul’s invocation in today’s epistle reading is that we “abound in hope.” This is obviously more than just wishful thinking. It is something that is rooted in objective reality.
He says that the key to our hope is the fullness of “joy and peace” that comes “in believing.” The Greek word pisteuo, which is translated in the ESV as “believing”, actually means so much more than just a mental assent to a truth or person. It implies actions which are based on putting one’s faith or trust in something, or in the case of this verse, someone. It is the belief that engenders trust and faith in the person of Jesus who came 2000 years ago, not only to walk amongst us, but also to die and rise again. It is hope that rests on God’s unequivocal demonstration of His love for us in Christ.
This is what the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” points to when it says, “The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in Thee tonight.” Jesus’ arrival at His first coming is meant to be the answer to all human desiring. He is the one who overcomes the root of all our fears, the fear of death. But even with this reality of the past, we still struggle in darkness here and now. The incurable diagnosis, the irretrievable relationship, the incapacitating depression overwhelm us, and all too often put us down for the count. We may ask where is hope when we need it most?
This is why Advent also looks forward to and anticipates the hope of the consummation of all things when Jesus comes again. Tish Harrison Warren in a recent opinion piece entitled “Want to get into the Christmas Spirit? Face the Darkness” in the New York Times points out:
To practice Advent is to lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime. We dwell in a world still racked with conflict, violence, suffering, darkness. Advent holds space for our grief, and it reminds us that all of us, in one way or another, are not only wounded by the evil in the world but are also wielders of it, contributing our own moments of unkindness or impatience or selfishness.
This slowing down in the season helps us to look honestly at our lives, with all its pain, disappointments and fears, without responding with an “unhealthy escapism.” Warren goes on to say, “We can turn to the holidays as anesthesia from pain as much as anything else. We need collective space, as a society, to grieve—to look long and hard at what is cracked and fractured in our world and in our lives.” And as we embrace and acknowledge the darkness, then can we anticipate the light of hope that we long for in the proclamation from the heavenly throne, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)
This is why believing in not only Jesus’ incarnation but also His promise to come again at Advent, will fill our hearts “with all joy and peace… so that by the power of the Holy Spirit (we) may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)