Each week in Advent is characterized by a grand biblical theme emblematic of God’s gracious attention to us. As we light the first candle of Advent each day this week (suppers, prayer times, “I’m sick of news and turning it off to watch my candle” moments) we reflect together on Hope. Referenced in its purest form some 180 times in the Bible, or 350 times when expanded to include its fraternal theological twin Trust, Hope carries significant biblical freight as a core virtue of a faithful life. At least one Hebrew term for hope is decidedly feminine, which upon further examination utterly startled me with the truism that almost every Old Testament figure who invokes hope with this term is female! Ruth’s faithful mother-in-law Naomi says to her grieving daughters-in-law, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons—would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters!” (Ruth 1:11-13a) Evidently, for health and for children and perhaps for sanity, Hebraic consciousness credited the women with holding Hope for everyone else. Sound at all familiar? Hope’s other Hebrew word invokes expectation for a reality not yet fully manifested or fully realized, like a peaceful future and from there to eternal life. In all OT usage (OT is super cool shorthand for Old Testament, remember?) Hope is the archenemy of despair and bitter grieving, a key psychological insight for our ancient forebears. The Apostle Paul taught us that perfected love casts our fear. Our Hebrew forebears teach us that perfected Hope casts out the dark voices of despair, unredemptive grief and just general pucky anxiety of every stripe.
The NT Greek words (dear readers are we onboard for NT?!) for Hope convey a deposit of trust in advance of evidence or definitive proof. While many of us would grammatically slouch that definition towards faith, our Christian forebears knew better! To trust in advance was to Hope, to trust God in spite of all odds and in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Paul (again) says famously in the First Corinthians chapter 13 reading everyone loves at weddings (although he was putting relational wood to the Corinthians as they were rebelling against Paul’s spiritual authority, resulting in a seriously fractured moment it took several letters and multiple visits to repair….ahh, the things we neglect to mention to our photogenic young couples!) that faith, hope and love abide, and the greatest of these spiritual gifts is indeed love. But Hope is first runner-up! All these core elements of God’s nature (hope, love, grace, faith, trust, forgiveness) are theological cousins in the Kingdom of the Heavens. To be a Christian is be definition to be committed to Hope, optimistic and impossibly naïve and expectant of God’s redemption at any and all moments. Hope is not a philosophical subject for us…it’s an action verb!
- In what are you most hopeful for this First Week of Advent? Or put more biblically, what unfulfilled moment or expectation or dream would you beg God to enact if you had a private moment with Him?
- How, concretely and specifically, do you trust Jesus and Hope for Jesus in your daily life?
- Why don’t we, right now and right here? (Have a private moment to beg God, I mean) It’s called “prayer,” and no one else is listening! Please make a sustained prayer of hopeful intention during this week, and I will to. Onward!