“And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.” Psalms 39:7
I watched my siblings open their enormous packages under the tree. They exclaimed with delight as paper, boxes, and bows flew around the room. Opening my small packages, I was confused about the obvious discrepancy. The only thing I had asked for that Christmas was a boom box, which seemed rather unrealistic at this point. I dreamed about using my paper route money to buy cassette tapes playing my favorite music in the privacy of my bedroom. I choked back the tears and expressed gratitude. One of my parents suggested I bring my gifts up to my room, and I complied, happy to escape. I opened my door and, much to my surprise, I found the very gift I longed for, a shiny boom box! Almost forty years later, I can still remember the hope, despair, and the joy that transpired that evening.
This week is the beginning of Advent, the Christian tradition of preparing themselves for the coming of Jesus. They celebrate it through calendars, daily devotions, artwork, music, lighting of candles, poetry reading, and even special ornaments. In the past, my experience with Advent was limited to the cheap cardboard calendars filled with even cheaper candy, not understanding the purpose or history. A few years ago, Terry and I incorporated this spiritual practice into our lives. Much to our surprise, it changed our perspective on Christmas and inspired feelings of expectations and wonder. In the next four weeks, I am going to focus on one Advent word each week, sharing with you how God is using that word to transform my life.
Hope is used throughout the Bible. In the book of Ruth, Naomi told her daughters-in-law to return to their families because she had no hope for the future. Job expressed his despair by saying he had no hope. In the Psalms, David lifts himself above difficult circumstances by reminding himself that he “should rest in hope” and find his hope in the salvation of the Lord. But even more than a word occasionally used in scripture, the whole Bible rests on hope, the hope of a Savior to bring reconciliation and restoration from sin.
Paul defines hope a little more clearly in Romans 8. This chapter is full of the gospel, reminding us we are not debtors, but orphans adopted into God’s family. He reminds us that suffering will happen in our lives, not as punishment, but as opportunities to show God’s glory. He then mentions hope three times in one verse. Verse 24 states, “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?” He continues in verse 25, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Hope, translated from the Greek word “elpis”, means “a joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation”. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, it can also mean “that in which one confides or to which he flees for refuge.”
It’s easy to have confidence when the blessings of God are flowing, our health is good, and our family is whole and happy. But this is not hope, it’s actual evidence we can point towards. Hope is when everything is not going well, yet we remain joyful and confident that God is working all things out for our good. Hope is last Christmas, where I found myself in spiritual darkness parallel to the dark December days getting shorter. It had already been a tough year that seemed unending. In a few weeks, Terry lost his job, leaving us without income for six weeks. My uncle Dennis died unexpectedly, and a gift I gave was rejected. Every time I thought I couldn’t handle anything more, something else would happen. I can’t say I smiled extra brightly that season or acted hopeful. But I remember at one point my perspective shifted, turning towards the Lord, choosing to believe that light would shine again in my dark world. I was confident my uncle was with his Lord despite the hard sorrow I felt. I saw God provide miraculously for our needs despite our empty bank account. Terry eventually accepted a new position, and I worked towards accepting the rejection with grace. But none of this happened until I began hoping for light in my darkness.
For four hundred years, God was silent, with no prophecy or evidence that He was still blessing the chosen people. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the nation of Israel was under Roman rule, losing their national identity and faltering under the burden of high taxation. Despite this season of darkness, hope’s fingerprints cover the accounts of Jesus’ birth. It starts with the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew. He records four women in this lineage: Rahab, Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. When you read the Biblical accounts about these women, you find out that each of them has a broken story, filled with despair and mistreatment by society. Yet, by placing them in Jesus’ lineage, we have hope that, despite our own broken stories, we can be a part of the family of God. Hope continues in the story of Zachariah and Elizabeth who were long past childbearing age. Visited by an angel, they were promised a child who would foretell the coming of the Messiah. Hope is declared in Mary’s words, “Be it unto me according to your word,” even though she faced so much uncertainty. Hope is found in Joseph’s acceptance of Mary’s status and the rumors about her impending birth. The shepherds chase after hope to find a baby swaddled in a manger. The wise men follow hope for miles to bring gifts to an unlikely king. Hope resonates in the voices of Simeon and Anna, two older people who waited and recognized the Messiah after years of studying or serving in the temple.
Yet, hope didn’t end with the birth of Jesus. It didn’t end with Jesus’ life of ministry and miracles. It didn’t end with his death and resurrection. It didn’t end with the infilling of His spirit inside of me. Hope continues in the promise of his second coming, when we are united with him forever, where all suffering, tears, and pain ends. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”
My 1980s boombox is probably still decomposing in a landfill. This item that I hoped for, felt despair over, and later felt joy over while listening to music, doesn’t exist in my home. It’s a memory of a bygone era, where cassette tapes are archaic and radios with antennas are mostly obsolete. My hard Christmas is also gone, but there is no guarantee that my life will be full of ease and comfort. Death will come again, as will rejection and disappointment. But my hope is not based on the ease of my situations, it rests in my declaration of trust in the only one who is faithful. And in Jesus, I find a place of refuge despite my circumstances.
I close with the song, “After December Slips Away” by First Call. I hope you listen to this song and let the words minister to you as they do to me every Christmas. Advent is a season that ends quickly, but “no matter how many hopes come true, I know that all I have begins and ends with you”.