May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing through the experience of your faith that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will abound in hope… (The New Testament)
Yesterday we lit the first Advent candle, traditionally labeled the candle of hope. Forty-eight hours earlier we watched in horror for five hours as a man here in our city indiscriminately fired his gun at law enforcement officers and civilians, leaving three dead and several wounded. Twenty four hours before the candle was lit two friends died: Kim, a woman on our local Cru staff who suffered less than a year from cancer and who just two days earlier celebrated the engagement of her daughter, and a man who lay nearly immobilized more than three years from a severe stroke. Stan accompanied us to Tanzania in 2002 and I will forever remember his uncontainable joy at the Sunday worship service as the music roared and people danced. Yesterday morning I watched another friend describe her pain as she observes this first Christmas without her precious daughter, and I read our daughter-in-law’s tribute to her sister who died last April.
Hope? Hope in the middle of black tragedy? As we watch the suffering of those we desperately love? Is hope just a foolish emotion of misguided Christians? Is the hope experienced by the families of Kim, Stan and the young police officer, by a grieving mother and weeping sister a mere panacea to avoid heart rending sorrow? Jesus, a man well acquainted with sorrow, wept at the grave of his dear friend and announced to the family that he himself embodied true and eternal life. Another first-century man who had frequently been at the point of death wrote to grieving friends that it was normal to grieve but not as those who have no hope.
For the one who loves and follows Jesus, hope is concrete evidence because it is grounded in God and what he says, and we know he cannot lie. A Christian’s hope is a confidence that something will come to pass because God has promised it will come to pass. When Jesus told the crucified criminal at his side “this day you will be with me in paradise,” against all human, fading hope, that word—that promise—would be fulfilled.
Our grieving—so intense and heartbreaking in the early days of loss—gradually ebbs into an ache as we increasingly hand over our sorrow to the only One who truly understands. Eventually we remember our loved ones, not as models of perfection, not as idols kept on a shelf, but as treasures God allowed us to love for a brief time. Now they live without pain, they dance with joy, they live in—they overflow with—abounding hope. That same hope, what one person defined as absolutely certain expectation, can be ours today as we gaze—even tearfully—at the candle.
Hope? Yes! Hope in this? Yes! Hope now? Yes!