I loved sharing some thoughts on hope during the Advent service yesterday at my church. For those that missed it, here's the draft I spoke from. May God bless you this Advent Season!
Several years ago I became interested in learning more about the universal church calendar. I didn’t grow up in a faith tradition that celebrated Advent or Lent and I was eager to know more about how the church through the ages recognized these seasons.
Today is the first day of the historical church calendar, beginning on the first Sunday of Advent. The season of Advent was in place by the 3rd or 4th century but wasn’t formally recognized as the four Sundays leading up to Christmas until the 8th century. It was not celebrated as we do now, concurrently with the Christmas season. Christmas day actually started the Christmas season and went on for 12 days until Epiphany (wise men) on January 6th. (The 12 days of Christmas)
Instead of a celebration, Advent was a season of preparation, of acknowledging the time the Israelites waited for the Messiah to come. That’s why I think it’s appropriate that we begin the season of Advent with the candle of hope. By its very definition, hope infers waiting. We don’t hope for something we already have. If we’re hoping, we’re waiting for it to come.
I’ve spent a lot of time these last two years wrestling with the concept of hope. Is it wrong to keep hoping for things that it seems God is unwilling to give me, or least unwilling at this time? And if it is, than what do I do? Give up hope? I’ve wanted to a few times. Continuing to hope and being disappointed time and again can be painful.
Earlier this fall, Pastor Josh preached in Romans 5 and while the sermon wasn’t about hope, I saw something in those verses I’d not noticed before. It reads in verses 3-5…
“…we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.”
I’m pretty sure I gasped out loud as he read this because this passage says something very profound about hope. Did you notice that it seems kinda backward? Shouldn’t we get the hope at the beginning of this? We can endure when we have hope, right? It makes sense that hope would be right after the suffering. But that’s not where the hope comes. As we suffer, and persevere – which means we stick with God through whatever he sends to us and walk by faith and not by sight – we develop character. And when this character is developed, hope is produced in us. Hope is a product of the character that is built in us as we wait.
And here’s where it gets really good, because if we keep reading, it continues…
“This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
I don’t know for sure what you’re hoping for in this season of your life, but I can guess some things. I’m pretty sure some of you are hoping for financial rescue, a raise, a better job, your home refinance to go through. I imagine many are hoping for a good report from the doctor, relief from chronic pain, or to finally get that last surgery so you can put a season of cancer behind you. Some of you are waiting for a relationship to be restored or a child to come back to faith or a marriage to mend. You might be waiting to get married, to have a baby, to have grandchildren, or to move closer to the ones you already have. We’re all hoping for something.
I wish I could tell you we’re all going to get what we’re hoping for. But the truth is many of our hopes are going to disappoint. We may wait the rest of our lives and not receive what we’re hoping for. But there’s good news.
While the things you hope FOR may disappoint you, when you put your trust in Jesus, when you cling to him through suffering and the waiting and allow him to build endurance and character in you, you learn that the only hope that doesn’t ultimately disappoint is the hope you place IN him.
It’s not wrong to hope FOR many things. We are made with longings and desires that are part of the cost of being human. But our hope can only be IN one thing – Jesus. The hope of the world that came at Christmas.
As we light the candle of hope, we remind ourselves that as the Old Testament saints waited for the messiah’s first coming, we are waiting for his glorious return. And this hope will not disappoint.