Who holds your hopes in their hands?
Today’s readings are all about the hope of the believer, which are the same hopes that all people possess, even without being able to articulate them or believe they will actually be fulfilled. See Isaiah 40:1-11; Romans 8:22-25; and Psalm 126.
The hope of a better life, a better society, a better world is a common, maybe even universal phenomenon. It is the stuff of which utopian dreams are made. While we have markedly different ways of envisioning what it would look like, different ways of including or excluding certain kinds of people, the fact that we believe a better arrangement of things is desirable undergirds all of them. We also have differing ideas of what prevents us from experiencing that imagined world rather than the one we actually occupy.
I believe Advent to be a time for thinking about what our dreams might be, how they might be attained, and what keeps them from happening. For the fact is that life in the world that is leads us to desire things that are not necessarily good. What we think would be the ideal world, the ideal conditions, turn out far to often to be far short of expectations, and perhaps even injurious to ourselves or to others. The traditional biblical texts read during this season offer the only true solutions to both our understanding of our present dilemma and the only true hope for their resolution.
All three Scripture passages attest to what is wrong. We are. All three underscore who will be able to fix what is wrong. God is. All three encourage us to be patient while God accomplishes all of what He has in mind for our world. Implicitly, all three warn us against settling for lesser solutions. “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” It is either the believer’s constant hope or it is the cruelest of hoaxes. It demands that we face the real pains, sorrows, disappointments, failures, and sins we have both endured and committed which precipitate the tears without diminishment. Biblical hope is not for those constantly given to saying, “It’s not really so bad.” Until we see that it is, we are not ready for the exuberance of hope. That is why Advent began with such an emphasis on repentance, on facing the sinfulness of our own sins.
In a world convinced that life would be better if only the Republicans, the Democrats, the economists, the lawyers, the (fill in the blank) would all go away, Christians know better. The world is groaning. But it will not forever be so. The Bible indicates that we cannot imagine the full scope and extent of what God is preparing. And that hope keeps us from giving ultimate allegiance to lesser agendas, even if we do work toward temporary betterment of other people’s lives in anticipation of the best for all. We can even accept failures in the pursuit of any temporal program; our eyes are fixed on a greater goal, which no one can prevent from happening.
At times we need to ask ourselves what it would mean if the commitments we have in this world would fall apart. And then with renewed hope in the final victory of God we can re-engage in the temporal goods that lift our vision toward that final hope. Christ’s first Advent, its redemptive conclusion, and the subsequent work of the Spirit are the only guarantees that we have of their fulfillment. Faith says it is enough.