What is Hope?
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. (Ps 19:14)
“Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matt 11:3) [3rd Sunday of Advent, All Saints, Prescott, AZ, 17 Dec 2017]
Today we observe the Third Sunday of Advent, filling us with a sense that time is getting shorter and shorter before we celebrate Our Savior’s Birthday.
Today we are still waiting. Advent is, after all, the season of waiting … and hoping … and wishing for a sign that God does indeed love us and that God is in control of our lives. The season of Advent invites us to concentrate on things other than earthly issues, to work for a closer relationship with God and to hope that the anniversary of Christ’s birth will become personally meaningful for us. Advent is the season of expectation, and it calls out to us with the promise of hope.
Now, hope is something that every one of us can identify with. How many times this past year did we say: I hope? I hope I will do well on my job today. I hope the results on my medical tests are good. I hope that I have enough money to meet this or that obligation. We base our future on those 2 words “I hope”, because the other two words that are among the most dreaded in the English language are: “No hope”!
Just imagine ---- if there was no hope for us to get closer to God… no hope for us to be forgiven… no hope for us to be saved! Our lives would, indeed, be dismal, if that was true! But then again, Jesus came to earth for us to have hope… hope of redemption, hope of forgiveness, and hope of life everlasting!
For the Jews, however, it had been thousands of years in which they hoped for the coming of the Messiah. Within this hope, an expectation had grown into their way of life that He would free the people from all sorts of pain and suffering: They hoped that the Messiah would bring peace …or would bring about a reign of justice… or would raise armies to free Israel from Roman oppression.
John the Baptist, in particular, felt compelled to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah by calling for their repentance, and he was rewarded for his efforts by announcing Christ’s arrival. “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29) he said, when he saw Jesus approach the River Jordan. John at first believed that the waiting was over, that the Messiah had finally come, and that things would be different from here on out. But what had been so sure just a few months ago, was no longer so sure later on. His hopes and expectation for change had turned sour; he was imprisoned, and in his frustration he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question: “Are you the one we were waiting for, or do we have to wait for someone else?” (Mt 11:3)
John hoped to be reassured, to be told that all was good, that he had not wasted his time. Hope and expectation had changed to questioning and doubt, and to dispel John’s uncertainty, Christ returned this message: the blind see, and the lame walk; lepers are cleansed and the dead are raised up.
And just as John had expected good news, we expect good news as well, because we are a people with expectations. We, too, hope for a better future and for personal fulfillment. We hope for growth as individuals and as Christians, and we expect better things to come our way, perhaps tomorrow, or the next day… perhaps this year, or the next.
Expectations pull us out of the present and into a future we do not yet have, and pretty soon we begin to act and speak as if our expectations were the reality of our lives. We allow those expectations to shape our attitudes, our beliefs, and the way we relate to others.
For example, when we go to sleep at night we expect to wake up in the morning. We expect the sun to rise each day, and we expect that other people will treat us with kindness and respect. We expect to be in control for every minute of every day. But when that does not happen as planned, when a difficult problem threatens our control, we immediately expect God to protect us… to make the un-pleasant go away… to give us another chance… and to smooth out what went wrong.
Whether for good or bad, expectations shape our attitudes and beliefs… and they have the power to imprison our thoughts and to shape our motivation to seek God… or to cast Him aside. These expectations have the power to make us doubt our faith and ask: Is Jesus the one we are waiting for, or should we expect someone else?
Unfortunately, our expectations often blind us to the reality of life. Often, our expectations dictate what we want to receive from God. We imprison ourselves with an unrealistic view of God, His kingdom, the world, and even our own life. We try to confine God’s work to our expectations of who we are… or want to be.
Those expectations even shape our image of who God is, where and how God should participate in our life, and how God should take action whenever we ask for help. If God does not meet our expectations we are very quick to question Him … rather than ourselves. In short, we very much trust our expectations of what God should be doing… rather than what God actually does.
Often, we wish that God would make our life easier; instead, He calls us to live more earnestly. We want God to eliminate our suffering; instead, we discover God standing with us in the midst of our pain. We expect that God would make us “number one”; instead he calls us to identify with the least… and the lost. We want Him to make us strong, but he calls us to discover His strength in our weaknesses. We want God to destroy our enemies, but He commands us to love them. We want to be leaders, but Christ showed us how to be servants. We want God to give us free reign in life; instead, He freely… and graciously… gives us free will… and forgives us our trespasses each time that this free will leads us astray.
But… we do not see that, because our spiritual blindness often prohibits us from seeing His divine will working within us.
When our expectations, our plans and our wishes go unfulfilled, we become even more determined to “take control”, to prepare ourselves “better” for the next test, the next day, and the next emergency. We insist that our will be done at all cost… although we say and pray: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt. 6:10)
Every time one of our expectations is not met, our inner hopes crumble, our faith is tested and… sometimes… even fails. We look for tightly wrapped packages of joy and fulfillment, but fail to see the small miracles that surround us every day: the turning of the seasons; the changes of color during sunrise or sunset; the slowing down of nature as winter comes, and the hope and expectation for new life as spring rejuvenates the sleeping earth.
So I wonder if our expectations and the visions of ourselves have imprisoned our minds… if we are hardened in our hearts to expect only one outcome… if we are locked into a belief that only we have the answers to life and happiness. We wonder why God does not cooperate with us a just little, so that life would be so much easier!
But that is not how it works. We will escape these and other expectations when we open our minds and hearts to see the bigger meaning of Jesus’ coming to earth.
We will escape these and other expectations when we accept the reality that our life is entirely in God’s hands!
All the worry in the world will not make us more lovable, more humble, or more cared for.
All the worry in the world will not make us live a minute longer than God has ordained for us to live.
All the worry in the world will not make us love each other more, or do away with our offenses.
Our heavenly Father gave us the example of a perfect life in and through Christ, and we are strongly encouraged… commanded even… to learn from Him. Ultimately, we have to trust God more than ourselves… and change our pride to humility.
He has not come to bring us a new kingdom on earth, but to show us a kingdom to come; He has not come to offer us a life full of earthly happiness, but a life that will be everlasting. He has not come to be a baby only, but to grow into adulthood and to teach us about our heavenly Father, to die for us, to rise from the dead, ascend into heaven and be our Mediator and Advocate forever!
He came to make possible for us a new way of life and to free us from the bonds of sin… so that, when we pass from this earth, we can look forward to a changed life with God in eternity.
He came to take on our humanity so that “by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death --- the devil.” (Heb 2:14)
He came to fulfill the promises and prophesies of the OT, and to satisfy the patient hope of thousands of years and millions of people.
In our impatience we expect immediate results, but we should pray for perseverance. In our frustration we want to lash out, but we should pray for tranquility. In our anger we want to seek revenge, but we should pray for peace.
We should not ask what God can do for us, but examine our lives by asking what we can do with the support of God’s grace in our hearts. We need to escape our rigid expectations and return to a firm belief that God is present in our daily activities. We need to trust God… rather than our ideas about God. We need to build real trust and confidence in Him, believing that He will free us from our prison of unmet expectations, that He will provide for our needs in this life… and the next.
Instead of focusing on things that should have been or might have been, we need to focus on the joy that Christ has come and will come again. Christmas is only the beginning of our journey to salvation. So that Advent season might become more meaningful to us, it makes sense to talk about a baby born some 2,000 years ago, and about a Christ who is present with us today, and a Christ who will return during His Second Coming.
The Advent season cautions us not to become absorbed in the daily worries of life, not to let the daily worries weigh us down. We are encouraged to rejoice in the blessings of our salvation as we expect and prepare for the anniversary of Christ’s birth.
Advent also wants us to keep our eyes focused on the Big Picture -- on the Big Promise that Christ will come again. We are reminded to look to and through His Birth, His ministry and the Cross to His Second Coming. The Advent season calls on us to prepare our hearts for the recollection of Christ’s birth as well as the promise of His Return. The baby in the manger is significant and full of promise, but reminiscing about that 2,000-year-old event may not be enough when we try to understand His mission, His sacrifice, and His ultimate return at the end of time.
Let us rejoice in the fact that He sees more beauty in us than we see in ourselves. Let us rejoice in the fact that He keeps our hope alive in anticipation of our reunion with God in eternity. Christ always comes to us with good news, even if we do not realize it. He came to us that first Christmas with joy and expectation, He comes each day to grace us with the love of God, and He will come again to fulfil our hope of life everlasting.
Christ is the real deal! We do not have to wait for someone else!