Here it is: the first week of Advent when Christians around the world light one candle on a wreath. Traditionally the first candle symbolizes hope, but that word sounds ludicrous in a world threatened by a spreading deadly virus, by armed terrorists who do not hesitate to kill innocent children in their selfish quest for domination. Most of us Americans ate too much delectable Thanksgiving fare just a few days ago, but thousands scrounged for bits of food that day in the dumps of Cambodia, India and The Philippines.
Hope? The cynics among us believe it is long gone. Idealists (many of them Christians) think it only a coming-Kingdom reality. But what about the here and now? Is hope, defined as a confident expectation, even possible in the midst of seemingly hopeless marriages, young people adrift in the haze of drugs, women and men weary from climbing the tilting corporate ladder? Is hope a mere pipe dream? (Incidentally, that term is thought to be derived from the fantasies brought about by smoking opium!)
Each week I’m privileged to sit among a dozen or more women who exemplify hope. Many of them have experienced broken dreams, some live with chronic pain, some with the reality of ravished families and some even facing terminal disease. While we often weep and pray together over all these forms of brokenness, I am amazed and encouraged by the reality of hope that absolutely oozes out of them. They give of resources, love, friendship when their own wells seem almost dry. Could it be that it is primarily when we are drained of all that money, prestige, success, even people can give that hope is what fuels us?
When family troubles seemed overwhelming to an acquaintance, her husband-to-be sent her these words, Regardless of circumstances, in the face of the storm… Things are not what they seem…(because) our hope is in Christ… And with even more profound impact, listen to these words from an Iranian Christian who has been imprisoned for his faith for over three years. After repeated beatings and “kangaroo court” proceedings, he wrote a birthday greeting to his eight-year-old daughter (capitalization is his own): I know that you question why you have prayed so many times for my return and yet I am not home… In your mind you are asking WHY? The answer to the WHY is WHO. WHO is in control? LORD JESUS CHRIST is in control… The confusion of “WHY has all this happened?” and “WHY are prayers not answered yet” is resolved with understanding WHO is in control…LORD JESUS CHRIST, OUR GOD!
To an untuned heart, this kind of hope is ridiculous, but to those who claim kinship with David, the Hebrew Shepherd-King, these words are life and breath:But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. (Psalm 37:7)