We begin our worship service each Sunday during Advent by lighting a candle on the Advent wreath. This past Sunday we lit the first candle and we called it “HOPE.” For me, this hushed moment of candle lighting is like the ringing of a bell – a bell not very big, and not very loud – that continues to reverberate quietly even after it has been rung. “HOPE … HOPE … hope” sets the tone for this season and seeks to shape our expectations and waiting.
But sometimes, our experience is the very opposite. “It’s very hard to be hopeful at Christmas,” someone said during our Discovery Hour class last week. In the same way that this season can make certain moments and celebrations more holy, it can also make losses and sorrows more painful. And that’s what many of us are experiencing right now. Some of us have lost loved ones, even this week. Some of us are sad about family members we won’t see because they are so far away, or because they are estranged from us. Some of us are fighting serious illness and are burdened by financial debt and are worried about the future.
It’s easy to talk about “cultivating a habit of hope” during Advent. It’s not so easy to feel hopeful when we think about our circumstances.
It may help to know that biblical hope is not “the power of positive thinking”; it is not “the be-happy attitudes.” Hope is instead the deep unshakable confidence that God has a good plan for all of what we call life, and that God is unstoppably, often invisibly at work in the world to bring about his good purpose. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope,” says the prophet in the midst of his grief, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. … ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'” (Lamentations 3:21-22, 24).
The key to “cultivating hope,” I think, are the words, “this I call to mind” and “says my soul.”
I pray that the notes of this season, sounded by the songs and scriptures and messages you hear, would call to your mind the goodness of God who decided to come and be with us in the birth of a baby named Jesus.