It is my task and opportunity to write these few lines at the time of the year we call Advent. In some traditions, the four Sundays before Christmas are dedicated one each to the following themes: hope, peace, joy and love. There is some variation in the order, but for the purpose of this writing, the first is the candle of hope. The birth of Jesus means that the faithful are to be a people of hope.
With the troubled life of the world; the climate crisis, the wars in Ukraine and Israel/Gaza, the seemingly ever-increasing polarization in the national conversation, combined with whatever unique stresses and demands that characterize each person’s life, hope can sometimes be a difficult proposition.
Growing up in the 1970s, I remember a sense of confidence in a better future. Perhaps the Cold War offered a sense of common purpose, or the decades of sustained economic growth after the Second World War made a convincing case of an ever-improving life, each generation better than the preceding one.
Presently, that confidence seems to be waning. People are affected by life in the world, and when the prospects for a positive future seem dim, life can be depressing in a way that qualifies any hope one might have. Life is experienced as a heavy load. What can one say by way of hope in the present situation?
I have always been deeply impressed by the faith expressed in the psalms and the prophets of the Old Testament. The people who sang these hymns and believed the prophetic message also lived in difficult times when there did not seem to be any reason for hope. They nonetheless proclaimed a great hope.
Not only did they fear being conquered and losing everything, but they actually were and did. Not only did they fear great catastrophes, but they saw their worst fears realized. Much of the story of the Bible is set in the context of the crises of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, all of which in succession defeated, and exercised hegemonic power over the people.
Without belittling the present troubles, it is fair to say that their context was very difficult, at least more tragic than anything I have ever experienced, and they found hope, not a superficial hope never tried by hardship, but a tested one that emerges from the most trying of times. It is that hope that is moving to me, and is the same hope that presently encourages me. In that vein, let me conclude with a few excerpts from the sacred words they left us:
“He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
“I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”
“My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.”
May your Advent season be filled with this blessed hope.
Dr. Mark Allison is pastor of the First Baptist Church in Delaware.