Hope may be the most courageous thing we ever do. I think it is safe to say that most of us are hurting this year. Most of us, if not all of us, are waiting for something to change. And then there are the “some of us” who have known agonizing suffering- bricks of pain, shame, rage, exhaustion, and disillusionment borne as soul burdens.
Hope seems like a sick game to the beaten down.
Bringing a soft heart to the world today seems absolutely ridiculous. Out of the question. In the presence of these dear ones, I tread lightly through this conversation.
Today begins the church calendar year with the start of Advent, four weeks spent waiting for the coming of Christ. We don’t wait for what already is. We don’t wait for what is not coming. If I invite people to dinner, and they text me, “On our way,” my heart quickens, I speed up the preparations, I glance out the window… a few times. I wait for them.
We are waiting. Waiting for light to pierce the darkness.
This week we light the Prophecy Candle, and we join the prophets of old in directing our lament to God, to the one who can change things: “This should not be.” We also embody the prophetic spirit that gives voice to God’s lament, approaching the powers that be with the light of truth and justice: “This should not be.” With the first candle on the Advent wreath, we celebrate the hope light brings. Hope that even the smallest glint means we will not be consumed by these ever darkening days.
Throughout this season of Advent, as we continue to light more and more candles, some of my friends will be lending their voices to the conversation here on the blog, bringing with them more light than my one perspective can offer. With that, I’d like to introduce my friend, Eric. He submits to you his thoughts on hope.
It is a story you have probably seen play out a hundred times. As the two teams return to the field after half-time, the attitude of each couldn’t be more different. Each came into the game expecting to win. They both had identified the qualities they possessed that would lead them to victory. However, only one of the teams had seen those qualities put on display. It was a lopsided first half of football. One team could seemingly do whatever they wanted, while the other couldn’t get out of its own way. As they step back onto the field, it appears that the outcome has already been settled.
Suddenly the losing team makes one big play. That’s all it takes for everything to change. It is the spark they have been waiting to see. The definition of “spark” is: “a trace of a specified quality”. That team went into the game with the qualities needed to win, but they didn’t see those qualities emerge. They went so long without seeing them that eventually they stopped believing they existed. The other team must just be better, we must have thought we were something that we are not. They kept playing, but they stopped expecting to win. They had no hope.
But then, the spark.
A trace of those qualities emerged, and hope appeared. Now we are playing a different game. That’s the beauty of hope and the power of expecting to win. It changes everything before anything changes. The score is the same. The same team is still playing the same other team on the same field. But because of hope, it’s a different game. If that spark happens to land on a team of dry tinder, we have a comeback in the making.
In this season, we celebrate this kind of hope. We own the fact that when we hope in Jesus, everything changes before anything is different. We acknowledge the sparks that preceded the birth of Jesus and gave the people of God the opportunity to live in expectation of good things. We should also ask ourselves what sparks we have been shown. Have there been any traces of the things we have been waiting for? Are we dry tinder ready for a spark of hope? Are we living in expectation of good things?
When we do this, everything changes before anything is different.
Thank you, Eric! Oh goodness… dry tinder. Come on. What an image! I love that God doesn’t light dripping wet wood, but the dry, crusty, spent ones. And that means that dry and dark circumstances are the perfect place for the spark of hope. Love it!
We continue our conversation with my friend Laura’s thoughts on hope.
When we think about hope, it can feel like this intangible figment of our imagination that is sometimes hard to grasp. Where does hope come from, and what’s the point of hoping when things look so bleak and unchanging?
The dictionary defines hope as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” Everyone has at least one thing that we are expecting or desiring. Like the persistent widow in Luke 18, we can continuously cry out to God for freedom, vindication, change, or our deepest heart’s desire. It took courage for her to keep showing up and pleading her case. It takes courage to hope that God’s promises are true, and God will bring justice, fight for us, and protect us. Unlike the unjust judge in the parable, God is the righteous One who never grows tired or weary of His children. God may not move or respond at the time we want Him to, the vindication may not even come in our generation, but Compassion gave us Emmanuel – God with us, Jesus – who suffers with us, empathizes in every way, and is the Hope filled anchor to our souls. The presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the promise that God will never leave us nor forsake us.
As we enter into this Advent season and reflect in anticipation on the coming and birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, hope is the substance that enables us to unwaveringly wait for the second coming of Christ. Hope starts by gratefully looking back, reflecting, and remembering God’s faithfulness and presence, in spite of every experience. Then looking forward in anticipation for all the times and ways God will show up in the future. Hope reminds us to keep believing that God is with us in the midst of pain, suffering, trials, and injustice. Hope trusts that God is our avenger and will not allow injustices to go on forever. Hope is the fuel that keeps us living, getting back up, and persevering, especially in the midst of unprecedented chaos. Isaiah 64:4 reminds us that “from ages past, no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.” Beloved, wait for God! He hears you and sees you, and He who promised is faithful (Hebrew 10:23)!
And as we wait, anticipating the day where there will be no more tears or sorrow, we too can be vessels of hope to others. We can participate in the ever-coming kingdom of God by caring for the families who’ve suffered loss; or by feeding, clothing and housing the homeless, meeting the needs of widows and single parents, as well as children in foster care, or those who are lonely in our communities. As convicted, we can contribute to those already doing this work, and give them times of respite. Or go even further by petitioning and fighting for changes to the systems that keep the housing costs, adoption costs, and medical costs at staggering rates. All these actions require courage and hope as well.
So, as we look back in reflection and gratitude at God’s presence in our lives, and as we look forward in anticipation to God’s justice and vindication, let us courageously dare to hope and be vessels of hope!
Thank you, Laura! I loved your encouragement to remember in gratitude and to participate in the ever-coming kingdom of God while we wait. Active waiting. Intentional waiting. Hope is not fluffy passivity; it’s alive.
We light the first candle in hope, bringing all of our doubts and fears. Your doubt may be the loudest and most sure proclamation that God is who he says he is, and that he will do what he says he will do. We don’t wait, we don’t hope for something that hasn’t been promised, for someone who isn’t coming.
In the Moment of moments
The Light of lights,
Disperses the shadow of shadows;
Of all time.
For all time.
-Katie Nelson Troyer
Grace and peace in your waiting, my friends.
Laura Olear is an Academic Advisor who is passionate about teaching, advocacy, and helping people achieve their goals. She’s currently pursuing an MA in Theology, before hopefully going on to a PhD in Psychology researching the intersection of trauma, women with addictions, and the Church.
Laura’s blog: lauraobehi.com
Eric Jackson, 35, is a Pastor and author in Minocqua, WI. Having spent the better part of the last decade in a variety of ministry positions, he is passionate about self-evaluation in Christianity and is currently the Lead Pastor of Foundation Church. He was born and raised in rural Wisconsin, graduated from U.W. Green Bay, and continues to brave the cold winters with his wife and two bulldogs.
Eric’s book Feral Christian can be found on Amazon, and his podcast by the same name is available on the Apple Podcasts app.
Katie Nelson Troyer
Originally from Wisconsin now lives in Connecticut with her husband Scott where she spends her days sipping coffee with friends, growing worship teams at various churches, and painting whatever she can with watercolor and gold. 🙂