I miss having little kids at Christmastime. Adult children at Christmas has its charms, like sleeping late on Christmas morning, and a slower, more relaxed pace to the day. But I find myself grieving the lost excitement of watching our kids anticipating Christmas morning, enthusiastic and waiting for the unwrapping of presents and what they would find under the tree on a chilly winter morning. Watching the hope in their eyes made Christmas just a little more special.
Hope for the Christian is a profound truth, something so much more than modern concepts of the idea, which is really just a kind of wishful thinking- looking forward to next year maybe being somehow better than this one, or toward that big end-of-year bonus, or, even someday, looming in the distant future, retirement, where the football commercials tell us we get to camp out on a beach and watch the whales for the rest of our lives. Where Bonhoeffer spoke against what he called “cheap grace,” grace without meaning or cost, this is “shallow hope,” Hope in hope itself, in nothing permanent.
Hope for the follower of Jesus is a link with the past, and a tie to the future. Advent is the season of waiting, the season in which we call on Jesus to come (Advent means “coming”). This yearning for Christ to come links us with God’s people past and present. We are a waiting, hoping people. The Christmas carol “O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel; that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear” captures the mourning yet hopeful heart of Israel as she awaits the first coming of her Messiah. Likewise, we await Christ’s coming again, to restore everything and make it new.
Hope is the anchor of our souls; it’s what gives our lives their meaning in this broken Genesis 3 world. Viktor Frankl understood hope well. Frankl, an Austrian psychologist and a Jew, was transferred to Auschwitz concentration camp from 1942 to 1945. While there, he lost his parents, brother, and pregnant wife. Frankl noted that although those interned at the death camps ate the same food, suffered the same diseases, performed the same work, and suffered the same freezing temperatures, some survived, and some did not. Those who survived were not always the strongest or fittest. Over time, Frankl observed that those who survived shared a unified characteristic: some sense of meaning and purpose, something deeper than themselves. The pursuit of that meaning fueled their perseverance in the darkest circumstances imaginable. When all else failed, hope prevailed.
Hope is the future tense of faith. While faith is the assurance of a current revealed reality and truth, hope is the anticipation of the continuous future unveiling of that revealed reality; it’s the conviction that everything we believe about reality and truth will come to pass. For the Christian, hope is not in a set of truths, but in the very person and work of Christ Himself-His death and resurrection in the past to free us from death and reconcile us to God, and His eventual return to make all things new. Hope is Paul reminding the Philippians from prison that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6).
When you think about it, much of what appears as our current reality every day are either lies or distorted truth concocted by the enemy of our souls, the current ruler of this world, tempting us to focus solely in the present. These distortions keep us focused on what appears to be truth, and tells us that there is no hope. This is, of course, what our enemy wants, because if we believe we have no hope, or live as if we do, we will inevitably turn away from God, the author of hope, to the things of this world, those of our enemy, who is ready to steal our joy, our love, and our souls.
But hope promises a completely different future: that Christ will return to make all things new. Revelation 21 and 22 speak of a new Heaven and Earth, and a New Jerusalem, a city we will call home, and which will be completely restored, sin and pain and death no longer a part of the renewed created order. 1 Peter tells us we are born again of imperishable seed, and that we’ll never die. I Corinthian 15 tells us we will live in new, resurrection bodies, like those of Jesus after He rose from the dead and appeared to others, still human yet perfect, something greater and more. In this perfect city, in these perfect bodies, we’ll work, but no longer endure the drudgery of work. Work will be completely fulfilling, full and perfect service to the Lord, just like we always wished it would be. We will work, and play, and live in perfect relationship with our Lord and with each other for all eternity. And, that’s just the part we know about! There’s so much more that God has yet to reveal.
And, hope is still more than waiting on some coming day, because the reality of that coming day charges our current reality with constant meaning. Frankl said that if life is truly about suffering, and if suffering is inevitable for everyone, hope allows us to find those goals, that meaning worth suffering for. As we walk in the light of current suffering, we do so with the knowledge that everything we endure is not only refining us for today, but preparing our hearts and minds for that future release, when Jesus wipes away every tear.
Most of those things we sing about at Christmas, like love, joy, and peace, endure forever. Hope will pass away. There will come a day when the reality for which we wait patiently, enduring and pressing into life as it comes and letting God use it to perfect us, is fully revealed. There will be no more waiting, no more looking forward. Hope will be fully fulfilled. Like our kids at Christmas after a long, dark winter’s night, the morning will come, all the gifts we hope for will be unwrapped and given, and we’ll feast with our Father and our family forever.