“A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” ~ O Holy Night
Does Christmas thrill you?
Children get excited at the coming of the season, and often we might feel a bit of a charge through experiencing their amazement, but the chores we go through to provide that for them are often the very things that rob us from knowing the wonder for ourselves. Plan the party, trim the tree, max out the MasterCard, wrap, ship, take a trip. And that's assuming we aren't one of the multitudes who find themselves with a case of the Holiday Blues.
So if Christ’s coming into this world offers hope, and hope, as the song says, provides a thrill, how do we locate that experience amid the distraction and disillusionment of December?
Well that’s the cool thing about Hope. Just as total darkness can't hold back the light of a tiny flame, so does even the smallest increment of Hope provide joy and purpose.
Here are a few scriptures I've been mulling over on the subject:
- “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Notice the parallel between "things hoped for" and "things not seen." Talk about a paradox; try applying "assurance" to something your five senses can’t detect. It’s a challenge. The plus side is that hope, through Christ, is available to you no matter what you see, hear, or feel. It's above your circumstances.
- “We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance [brings about] proven character; and proven character [brings about] hope; and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Do you ever hear people say, "I don't want to get my hopes up" because they're afraid of being disappointed? What would you make of Paul's claim that "hope does not disappoint"? Might the disconnect have something to do with what we're hoping for or expecting? Max Lucado thinks so: "Hope is not what you'd expect; it is what you would never dream. It is a wild, improbable tale with a pinch-me-I'm dreaming ending… Hope is not a granted wish or a favor performed; no, it is far greater than that. It is a zany, unpredictable dependence on a God who loves to surprise us out of our socks and be there in the flesh to see our reaction" (God Came Near, p. 89).
- “Love… hopes all things…but now abide faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:7,13).
Ever wonder why faith, hope, and love are the greatest virtues, and apparently in that order?
Maybe hope isn't actually something we do, but something we receive, like grace. If it's true that "without faith it is impossible for us to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6), perhaps it's conversely true that without Hope it would be impossible for Him to please us. The same verse says that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Is hope that reward?
I mean, if faith is what we give to God, and hope is what He gives to us, then we have the dynamic of a relationship. With that in place, we can love. So love is built on hope, which is built on faith.
For hope to exist, unfortunately it looks like there has to be hopelessness first. A perfect world wouldn't have any need of hope. Deliverance arrives undeservedly and perhaps unexpectedly, just as in the unlikely way God came to earth to provide a once-and-for-all substitute for the sins of all men on the first Christmas. That's why things can look bleak, but that's where hope lives.
The good news is: you simply can't hope big enough, which goes back to the idea of our minds and senses being inadequate to judge God's design and methods, and hope being more a function of God's involvement than our desires. I readily acknowledge I could not have conceived of the plan of salvation or the virgin birth. I couldn't have imagined the plan for the walls of Jericho to crumble, for hungry lions to turn into Daniel's pet kittens, or the Red Sea to part and offer up dry land. So neither do I know how my problems will be solved, or what miracles I'll be blessed to see this Christmas.
Isaiah 9:6-7 concerns the hope of the prophecy being fulfilled that brought us a "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace." The last sentence of verse seven says it's "the zeal of the Lord" that will accomplish this. God is excited! He's zealous (enthusiastic, passionate, obsessive even) to bring us this hope!
Romans 15:13 is my Christmas prayer: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Why is there hope? Because Jesus was born. O holy night. What a thrill. God is at work.
What does hope out of despair look like? There are lots of examples in any Christian's life, but in terms of contemporary cinema, I know of no better example than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Go back and watch those movies again over the holidays, keeping an eye out for allusions to hope and hopelessness.