Hi everyone. Rob here. This coming Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent; the season in the church calendar where we anticipate the coming of Christ into the world. We remember and celebrate his first coming as God incarnate and we also express our sure and certain hope in the second coming of Christ, the defeat of evil and the eternal reign of God. Some churches and homes use an advent wreath during the season and light a different candle on each Advent Sunday. These candles represent Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. So for the next 4 weeks I’m going to offer some thoughts on each of these words as we prepare for the Christmas celebration.
Hope is one of the most powerful themes in all of Scripture. Hope is seen as crucial to the human condition. We must have hope and, therefore, we must have hope in the one who gives us something of eternal worth to hope for! Because God is the God of life and because Christ is our life, we put our hope in God: Father, Son and Spirit. I love how Paul puts it in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” I also enjoy 1 Peter 1:4-5a, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
Hope is closely related to longing. First century Israel longed for a better future. She was ruled by the pagan, Roman empire. Her self proclaimed King, Herod the Great, was a despot and not even a true Israelite (Idumean). More people lived outside of Israel than in Israel (still true today). She was poor with her wealth concentrated in a few ruling families who constituted the social and political elite. Most of her citizens had lost their family land. Even the temple, though stunningly beautiful, was riddled with corruption and hypocrisy. Elsewhere, there was demonic oppression, low life expectancy, Pharisees and others imposing traditions and rules that just made life tougher and a profound absence of God. It felt like they were still in exile. They longed for a rescue from their miserable condition. Verses like Jeremiah 29:11 must have seemed very meaningful, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”
And then Jesus came. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).” Jesus Christ is hope fulfilled. Through him, the Holy Spirit has been poured out fulfilling the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Through him, eternal life has been given to those who believe. Through him, we can know hope, love, peace and joy.
And yet…We still long for something more. Like the ancient Israelites we sense that we need more of God. Eternity has been set in our hearts and our hearts are not yet full. Justice still needs to prevail in much of our world. Life still needs to overcome death and joy still needs to overcome despair in much of our world. We often feel God’s absence more than his presence. God knows our longings. He addresses them directly in Revelation 21:3-4 as he describes the fullness of the Kingdom come: “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
In this season of Advent, may we open our hearts to Christ our King and receive his profound hope as we give full expression to our deepest longings. He has come and will come again, but he also wants us to have life in the Spirit now. Let him come to you afresh this Christmas. Blessings.