A Thrill of Hope
It’s once again that magical time of the year where oddly we bring trees inside and there’s a little more of me to love thanks to eggnog! It’s the Christmas season, but specifically it’s advent. Most have seen the advent candles and the fun calendars with chocolate inside. These things point to Christmas day, but advent points to a little more than that.
What is Advent?
According to Britannica, advent is the period where Christians prepare for the celebration of Jesus, but also as a reminder to prepare for His second coming. Advent starts the fourth Sunday from Christmas and is designed to get our minds and hearts in a place to worship Him to our fullest. God’s first coming should also remind us that He told us to be ready for His second coming. God specifically did not let us know when this was happening. Instead we are told to be ready at all times. Advent is not the one time of the year where we should be ready, it’s merely a reminder of what we should be doing all the time. Advent is a powerful time of year since it reminds us of the incarnation, or God the Son taking on a human body. This conjures strong emotions including love, joy and peace. However, here we will focus on the hope Christ provides us.
What is Hope?
Hope is something we are very familiar with. I often hope to avoid red lights on my way to work or my list of unread emails won’t be a mile long. Of course our hope can take a more serious turn when a loved one has a serious medical issue or a good job remains elusive. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines hope as “to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or to be true”. Desires such as these are certainly things we hope for, but there is little to underpin them coming to fruition. In the biblical tradition this is not the case. In the New Testament, “elpis” is the Greek word translated as hope, meaning “favorable and confident expectation”. As a verb, the Greek word is frequently translated “to trust”3. I would never trust that the light will turn green on my way to work; that would probably not go well for my physical well-being. The big problem with the stoplight is I would be trusting in a thing, an inanimate object. However, if I trust in a person, specifically a person that knows all, is all-powerful and loves perfectly; now that is a completely different story.
Jesus is Our True Hope
God is clearly the only one who fits that description and we see how Jesus makes the stronger sense of hope available. You can see this in the classic Christmas story of the fall of Adam and Eve. Perhaps not super traditional, but the Garden of Eden starts as a perfect creation. Here there is no need for hope because humans walked with God in complete innocence. However, once they eat the fruit, sin arrives and now there is a barrier between people and God. This barrier is something we cannot overcome ourselves. I find it so interesting that it’s in God’s explanation of punishment, we get the first beacon of hope. As God curses the serpent He says “and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15). This foreshadows Jesus’s eventual victory, but at the cost of the cross. Fast-forward to Abraham preparing to sacrifice his beloved and promised son Isaac in obedience to God. On the way up the mountain, Isaac makes the astute observation: “’Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering my son.’ So the two of them walked on together” (Genesis 22:7b-8). With a knife raised over his son, Abraham is stopped by the angel of the Lord and a ram is provided in Isaac’s place. Because Abraham showed such faith, God says “in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18). This entire scene points to Jesus being the substitute on our behalf. He is the blessing for all nations.
Prophet after prophet in the Old Testament would continue to point to this hope. Isaiah talked quite a bit about the Messiah, including that He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). Micah said He would come out of Bethlehem. Daniel said “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14). Later Daniel would point to the end of sin, atonement for iniquity and an everlasting righteousness (Daniel 9:24). There are plenty of others, but these are just a sampling.
The several hundred years leading up to Jesus’s birth makes me think of the start of a highly anticipated play. The people file in, talking about what they think it will be like. Similar to the line of prophets pointing to the messiah. Then the lights go down and the crowd goes quiet. The time between the last prophecy and the opening of the gospels was over 400 years. The people endlessly waited and lived under a few different empires. Then finally the stage lights turn on, the music plays and the curtain reveals the scene. Here Jesus, God the Son, is born in humble circumstances, but hailed by legions of angels. The one pointed to from the fall all the way through the Old Testament was finally here. Christ came, lived the perfect life, died in our place and then was resurrected. It is for that reason Paul could say “when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:54-57). Our lives have value because God is good and life doesn’t end at the grave. We may shed our current physical bodies at death, but Christ paid our price meaning we don’t have to suffer eternal separation away from Him.
Advent by definition is a time to prepare. Some basic ways to prepare are to focus on your prayer life and disciplined bible reading. None of that is revolutionary thought, but just because we know it, doesn’t mean we do it. One suggestion is to find someone to regularly ask you how you’re doing. It doesn’t mean they should shame you, but they can encourage you when you slip. Sometimes the simple knowledge that someone is going to ask you, is enough motivation and reminder to stay consistent. The Bible App is another great resource that encourages consistency. You can pick from a practically never-ending list of curated reading plans and it will break it up into daily chunks. At the end of this I have a link to the site with a search for “advent”. As you progress the app marks things off and reminds you to read for that day. I also suggest you make deliberate effort to gain a better understanding of how truly great and powerful God is. The Bible App has a plan with a number of scriptures that describe this, linked at the bottom. If you are scientifically minded, dive into the Kalam Cosmological argument and the argument from fine-tuning. Consider DNA and all the mind-blowing biological machinery He designed that keeps all life going. I suggest this because that same creator left the majestic throne room to be born in humble surroundings and eventually executed on a hill He made. When I consider those things, suddenly there’s no more room for pride; there’s no more room for distractions. I just need to sit there for a minute in awe.
How do you prepare to celebrate one of the most amazing miracles and the one responsible for your eternal hope? If you don’t already have a tradition, start somewhere. You’re not aiming for perfection, you’re aiming for something you’ll actually do. Although you should challenge and stretch yourself! I leave you with the opening lyrics to O Holy Night and earnestly hope you engage with the one that brings us true hope. “O Holy Night! The Stars are brightly shining; it is the night of the dear Savior’s birth! Long lay the world in sin and error pining; till he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices; for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”