So often we use the phrase ‘I hope’. It’s far better to hope than to feel hopeless of course, but hope normally involves an element of luck. Christian hope is different. We know that what we hope for, what we are looking towards in Advent, the Second Coming of Jesus, will happen. We don’t know when but we know it will happen. This allows us to cope with the circumstances of our lives better than we might otherwise do.
At the 2pm service on Tuesday I gave a reflection on hope. The readings were Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-4, 18-19, Luke 10:21-24.
I wonder how often we hope for something in our daily lives. It’s quite a common thing to start a sentence with ‘I hope’.
If you are a sports fan, you may hope that your team wins their game this weekend. You might hope that the weather will be fine for an outing. I know we certainly hoped that it would be good weather in June when our daughter got married. If someone is ill we hope that they will get better. We look at the chances of a cure and hope they will be one of the lucky ones. Maybe we hold on to our lucky rabbit’s foot and trust it to bring us through whatever challenge we are facing. We cross our fingers, as if that might make things better.
Hope and luck seem to go hand in hand. There is no certainty about hope. It’s more a case of things maybe working out, the odds being in your favour, luck being on your side that day. Hope seems to be in short supply also, such as in a disaster. For people trapped after an earthquake or disaster, there comes a time when hope of rescuing them alive fades.
There are some times when hope is stronger than others. If we hope that a person may do something, our hope is stronger if that person is reliable. If we are hoping for the same from an unreliable person we might be told we haven’t a hope in hell. If our team has had a good run of results, we are more hopeful that they will win this time.
I suppose in general, because of the uncertainty, most people hope for the best but prepare for the worst. They have a Plan B, or maybe even Plan C and Plan D, in case their hope in Plan A is dashed.
We can hold on to hope more easily if things seem to be going well. We are very much dependent on external circumstances and our mood can go up and down, sometimes feeling hopeful and sometimes feeling hopeless, depending on how those circumstances change.
700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah was looking to the future with hope. Judah was surrounded by hostile nations and so on the face of it there was little reason for hope, but Isaiah was looking at the bigger picture revealed to him by God. Despite circumstances he could see something better coming one day. He saw a time when the Messiah would come, full of the Spirit, full of understanding and wisdom and good counsel. All the things that were lacking in a corrupt Judah would be put right in God’s Messiah.
There would be fair treatment, just judgements. Those who were at the bottom of society, who lived without hope, would be defended from exploitation. The wicked would find that they could no longer do as they liked. Fairness and truth would be the watchwords of the day.
Not only this, but what seemed impossible would happen: hostile animals would live at peace with one another. Everyone would be familiar with God’s word, God’s way of doing things, God’s guidelines for living, and there would be peace.
Just thinking about such a world fills my heart with joy, making it want to sing. It’s very much like the sentiment in our opening prayer where it says that the sound of God’s footsteps sets us dancing.
How foolish, you may say, to believe all that wishful thinking! It’s just the dreaming of a person who has lost touch with reality. Isaiah hadn’t lost touch, though, because he knew who he was hoping in. Later in the book of Isaiah he says: ‘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 grow faint.’ Even in human terms, the more reliable the person the more hope we have that they will do as they promise. God is totally and utterly reliable and so hoping in him is not wishful thinking.
As St Paul explains, ‘Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.’ Christian hope is not wishful thinking, a matter of probabilities, of lucky rabbits’ feet or finding a four leaf clover. Jesus has shown us what God is like, just in case we are not sure. Jesus says that he reveals the Father to people and he rejoiced that even those who were young or not very well educated could see what he was showing them.
In seeing Jesus, the disciples could have hope. Their external circumstances hadn’t changed. People were still sick, the Romans were still in charge, the wicked still prospered, but like Isaiah they could rely on God as revealed in Jesus.
Those who met Jesus in his earthly life have faithfully passed on what they learnt of God through Jesus, so that they have given us the gift of hope. Isaiah did the same for his people, pointing them to a wonderful time beyond what they could see.
At this time of Advent we are living with the hope of the return of Jesus to bring in God’s kingdom on earth. We hear of things that are wrong on earth: children are abused, people are exploited, greed in some causes suffering in others such as at Bhopal in India, wars rage and hunger and disease claim lives. The circumstances don’t look all that hopeful, but like Isaiah, like the disciples, we are to look up, to be far sighted and look to the promised future, renewing our strength because we hope in the Lord.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wonderful things. And blessed be his glorious name for ever.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor