It was no accident, or a nice thing to say when we came to the last few lines of the Service last week, that Bishop Haverland dismissed us with the words, “Go now that you may serve the world in peace and love, to bring hope to those who thought that hope was lost.” It is those last few words that are so important, and it is this that is tied to this season of Advent.
No one can live without hope … those who lack hope fall into despair and despair, if pushed to its limits leaves us either empty or leads us to suicide.
Hope is a great bible concept though it is not confined to the bible. Plato the 4th century philosopher noted that human existence is shaped by what we hope and not only by what we hope but also how we hope.
This is also the subject of our Breakfast Club Study group. Here we have been reflecting on the hopes, fears and anxieties of friends, colleagues and neighbors and in so doing we indirectly touch upon the hopes by which we ourselves live and the despairs that sometimes make our life almost unbearable.
It is just as John Donne, the 16th century English clergyman said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a part of the Continent, a part of the main.” When we look at others we have the opportunity to see ourselves in better perspective, for we are just like others. The prevalent hopes and fears that envelop us and surround us in our everyday life affect us more deeply than we might care to admit.
Tell me whose life has not been affected and changed by the fear of what Venezuela might become?
Many became so depressed by the thought of what kind of future lay here that they left the country altogether so that they might have better hopes for the future in another place.
Advent is the time when we should be thinking about our futures and the hopes and anxieties that might help of hinder us in our lives. It is too risky I believe, to let our hopes ride on the fortunes, or otherwise, of the country in which we live or the society in which we move. Nor can we adopt the biblical hopes and expectations as though we were buying hopes off the shelf in a store because our hopes, if we are to live happy and joyful lives, must be capable of overcoming our anxieties — and that includes our hidden fears that we may not want to face in the cold light of day.
Our hopes have to be strong enough to transform our most intimate desires to give us the daring and audacity to live courageously.
The Book of Job illustrates for us the conflict between our fears and our hopes. Job’s friends, the people we scathingly call Job s comforters were full of pious hope. The hope of the godless man shall perish they told Job. Is not your fear of God your confidence and the integrity of your ways your hope? they wanted to know. For them it was clear-cut and simple. Those who love God and live according to the law had a true and lasting hope. If Job despaired it proved he was ungodly. Job pointed out the fallacy of the doctrine. He had always feared God but one by one his hopes had been removed, his earthly possessions, children, and finally his health. My hope God has pulled up like a tree he complained.
Job’s comforters had faith in their faith not in God who was the source of all hope. Job learned to hope against hope in the midst of the ruins of his life. Here he finally discovered that neither our human capacity for hoping nor the integrity of our life could be the provider of hope. Only God can be the content of our hope, so Job stopped hoping for something and started hoping for someone, the living God. “I know that my redeemer lives” he said. The story of Job characterizes the whole history of the people of Israel. His journey from human hope to despair and on to hope in God is a parable of what the Israelites had to struggle through and they did it over and over again.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because a thousand years before Jesus, when David was anointed king, there arose a movement that hovered around David and the Davidic kings which stopped hoping for what had been and crystallized in the hope for a personalized messiah.
The dream of messianic expectations was born in King David. This vision of the coming age would not only give peace in people’s hearts and peace among the nations but peace in all of creation. It was nothing less than a new heaven and a new earth.
During the next thousand years the figure of the Messiah became vague as it adopted more and more contradictory traits and people added their own hopes to the hopes of the Messiah.
By the time Jesus was born, the situation had become bewilderingly confusing. We can hardly imagine how difficult it must have been for Jesus’ contemporaries, even those keen enough to become his disciples, to see in him the Messiah. They were probably deeply shocked at first, but gradually the apostles, and later the beginnings of the church, confessed to a suffering Messiah, the Christ who was crucified. By the time the gospels came to be written, they were constructed to interpret the Old Testament in the light of Jesus messiahship.
In a few weeks time, when we get to Christmas, we shall say that the Messiah has come in Jesus. That is essence of the message of Christmas, but it is a disconcerting Messiah that we get in the form of a suffering servant. Nevertheless we see in him the fulfillment of the Israelite hope.
If we confess that this Christ, this Messiah is our hope, what light does it throw on our own personal hopes and anxieties?
And what of the hopes of the people who are not here this morning?
Are they absent because Jesus does not fit their expectations, just like the people of Israel at the time when Jesus walked the earth?
If Jesus does fit your expectations then the greatest gift that you can give to anyone this Christmas is a real knowledge of Christ – so that their lives can be filled with a hope, not for something, but for someone in whom they can trust.