It’s the first week of Advent, a season of anticipation as we look forward to Christmas. Each week highlights a different virtue that Christmas should instill in our hearts: hope, peace, love, and joy.
But there is a dilemma here. One that I feel acutely as someone trying to make disciples in a city where violence and murder headline the news every night. As I’m writing this, I’m overhearing the report on a shooting in the subway three stops from our home.
Sadly, I’m neither shocked nor shaken up by this. But it does challenge me.
The Dilemma of Christian Hope
How can I go beyond wishful thinking to actually attain the virtues of Advent? They (hope, peace, love, and joy) seem antiquated and out of reach in a world full of evil, suffering, and injustice.
Corruption, school shootings, racism, sex trafficking, child abuse. The list is much longer and much darker than this, but I’ll stop there. Not because these things should be ignored—we should look them dead in the face and do battle with them daily—but because I have something to say about hope. Well, actually, God does.
In the Old Testament, hope has to do with waiting and trusting that things will work out in your favor. In Psalm 40, David says he “waited patiently on the Lord.” The word translated to “waited” actually means “hoped”. If you read the whole psalm, you’ll see that David was in a place of extreme suffering. But he chose to put his trust in God and wait. He chose to have hope.
You see, hope is choice. A conscious act of faith in a God who is sovereign over all, even when things look hopeless. Especially when things look hopeless.
The Decision of Christian Hope
In the first five verses of Romans chapter 5, Paul summarizes and masterfully intertwines all four Advent themes, and hope is the culmination.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. -Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)
Paul encourages us that we should have hope not only in the hopeful, but we should also have hope when things are hard. And for good reason—hope will never put us to shame, because we have the love of God, a foretaste of the fulfillment of his promise to secure our victory. And he has sealed that promise with his Holy Spirit.
This kind of hope doesn’t make sense, but it’s the only kind of hope that works.
Hope based on research studies, or number crunching, or human abilities will eventually put us to shame, but hope founded on God’s love will always prevail.
What we gain from Paul’s words is the spiritual truth that hope is a by-product of suffering well. When we embrace suffering, enduring its painful lashings, to the point of our character being transformed to look more like Christ, hope is born. Right there where hopelessness used to reign, hope comes in and changes everything.
Not only does hope come from suffering; but real, deep, transforming hope may very well depend on it.
Is there even a need for hope without hopelessness? Why would we need the hope of Jesus if nothing in or around us is hopeless?
The Beautiful Tension of Christian Hope
Hope is the place where the angst of hopelessness and the power of God’s love collide to create the beautiful tension that we are meant to live in. A tension that respects both sides of the story. The suffering (hopelessness) and the solution (hope).
Many people look at their fat bank accounts, their upward mobility at work, and their growing family legacy and call it hope. But I have another word for that—comfort. And earthly comforts are no substitute for the hope of God found in Christ. But in order to receive this “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3), we have to first see—really see—the things that are dead and dying.
This is not to put a damper on your Christmas cheer, but to point out that when Jesus was born he stepped into the dark, cold, hopelessness of humanity and shined the light of eternal hope.
This is Christmas. It’s not “string some lights and let the good times roll!” It’s “see the suffering and rejoice all the more in the hope of Christ.”
David had hope to be delivered from his suffering. Paul tells us to stand firm through suffering so that hope can be formed in us. This is the first step of a true Advent. Identifying the hopeless and trusting that the coming of Christ is the answer—the only hope—to bring light and life to those things.
With Christmas, God is not calling us to ignore the hopeless and go about our days only praising Him for the good things. He is challenging us look hopeless in the eye and say, “You don’t stand a chance against what’s (or who’s) coming.”
Where can you apply the hope of Christ this Christmas season? Where have you not suffered well? Are you embracing that beautiful tension? Have you ignored the hopeless? And how will you look it in the eye during this season of reflection and anticipation?