Any hope worth speaking about is based on our knowledge of the character of God. There are many kinds of hope; hope based on our knowledge of our friends' characters, that they won't let us down, or our own abilities, which we think are strong enough to cope with a challenging situation, but all of them are pale reflections of the ultimate hope; that despite the darkness and the suffering, we believe that God will come through, because he is a God of love.
Years ago, in India, a street boy we cared about very much was sitting on the roof of a train hurtling through the city of Mumbai. He was probably high on solvent, because when the wire came screaming towards him, he didn't duck and was knocked off onto the road. When the police contacted us he was already in hospital. We immediately hurried to see him, fearing the worst, and indeed, the doctor told us to give up hope. Those were his very words, "give up hope". This boy would die, he said and even if he didn't he would be brain damaged, he would never be the same and it would be best to let him die. Give up hope. Somehow, despite the failures, and the deaths, the unanswered prayers and the sad illnesses that, if we are honest, we have all lived through over the years, giving up hope seems to a Christian to be an affront to our religion; hope is at the centre of who we are. To give up hope would be to deny there is a God and that he is love. It is almost impossible to give up hope, and our hope is strongest when we can see no way forward.
So, we told the doctor not to give up and to keep treating our friend (one of my Indian colleagues said it a little more strongly than that.), and we prayed and visited, and waited and hoped. Waiting goes with hope and prayer, and it is something many of us find the hardest. It shows up how little control we have.
After several weeks, our friend was conscious, he was eating, and to the astonishment of the doctor, he was talking and talking until he drove the medical staff crazy. There was no way he was brain damaged! Our hope was justified, our friend was healed and restored. So, we go on hoping for the healing and restoration of friends, communities and whole nations. Often our hopes are dashed, but always we return to our knowledge of who God is and we start again. In the end hope will win out.
So it is with advent. After hundreds of years of silence, the Jews still knew that they served a God who speaks, and so they waited and prayed in hope. After years of oppression, and no answers to prayer, they still knew that they served a liberating God, and they waited and prayed in hoped. After centuries of waiting for the promised Messiah with only false prophets and false starts so far, the Jews still knew that they served a God who kept his promises and so they waited and prayed in hoped. It is at this time of advent that we also wait and pray in hope. We remember a hope that was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, and the fact of his death and resurrection that set our hope alight; a hope that says that death will finally be done away with. We also wait in hope for the return of our God to wipe away every tear and to bring justice and wholeness to all. We wait, we pray and we hope. This is advent, and we know we can trust the God we hope in; despite all the trials of life, he will never leave us.
Action: Talk to other Christians about when your hope has been fulfilled in God and also when your hopes have been dashed. Remembering both will help us trust more strongly in God, while we live in a difficult world.