Monday, November 28, 2016

Hope: You Keep Using That Word

I hope it doesn't rain this weekend.

I hope the party next week is fun.

I hope this head cold doesn't ruin our plans.

I hope my kids are safe.

I hope I get that raise.

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." - Dread Pirate Roberts, The Princess Bride 


If you're unfamiliar with Advent, it is the four-ish weeks leading up to Christmas, and it began this last Sunday. It is reminiscent of the waiting of Israel, as they longed for the coming of their Messiah - the Christ. The One. He would be their Deliverer. He would defeat their enemies. The first week is marked by Hope, so I've been thinking a lot on this word - Hope.

Israel had waited for untold generations.  They had been through seasons of victory and peace, of defeat and slavery, of glory and humiliation. There were times that many gave up, began to look for other ways to get what they wanted. They gave up on God, they looked to man. Yet, man did not come through...still never does.

Others held out. They believed. They longed for His appearing. Yet, they still waited. They were weary, oppressed, lonely. When it seemed all hope was lost, they still hoped. What did that look like? To hope when all seemed hopeless? 

For us now, it is also a time of waiting, groaning, longing, missing that which we desperately want and believe will one day be. We relive the groaning of those who waited for His first appearing. We long for His second appearing - when He will, finally, once and for all time, set all things right. We long in other ways as well, in our individual lives.

This has been a tough year. A difficult one to keep hope held high. Many just want to see it in the rear view mirror and pray 2017 brings better things. Sometimes it feels all hope is lost. What does that look like today? To hope when all seems hopeless...

I think we first need to know what hope actually means. Depending on what translation you use, "Hope" is used some 130 times in the Bible. In most of those instances, it is used much differently than we generally understand and use the word hope today. My opening is a list of some of our more common uses... we tend to use it passively, right? What can I do about the weather? Or whether someone else's party will be fun, or how bad my head cold is? Basically, we're just sitting, fingers-crossed that things go our way. That's not what is meant in scripture with this word. In scripture, hope has an anchor that is strongly connected both to God (His ability and desire to keep His promises) and our action.

When I hope for His soon return, it is a sure belief that God promises and is faithful. He WILL one day make all things new. That's His part. What's my part? I live like it's true. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, He tells us what He's expecting to see when He comes - am I living like I believe that day is coming? Feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the prisoner... am I? If I am not, then I'm not living in hope.

We see it in Hebrews 11 in each of the 'Hall of Faith" members mentioned. They lived through hopeless situations, with hope. They lived like it was true, even when it didn't feel true. They worked toward that truth, even when it seemed ludicrous to keep going. Look at the father in Jesus' story of the Prodigal Son. Jesus said he saw his son returning from far off and ran to him. How did he know? He hoped. He believed. He watched ... actively. And when he saw him, he ran. My gosh, I love that story.

As I've lived through much pain this year, I've meditated on this - what it means to have hope in the midst of the seemingly hopeless. This is what I'm coming to... I live like I believe it. 

If I have hope that Jesus is returning to make all things right, then I will act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with my God. I will do what He has called me to be here. Now.

If I have hope that a Prodigal will return, I'm going to work towards reconciliation, I'm going to watch, expectantly, I'm going to have my running shoes on!

If I have hope that God's will can be done on earth as it is in Heaven, then I will work to see justice and mercy lived out in our world - no matter who's sitting in the political power seats.

Hope is active. And it is anchored in a big, big God.

He came once. 

He is coming again.

So, this Advent, sit in the waiting for a bit. Imagine what it was like to wait for the coming of the Christ Child. 

Then groan, long for, wait, for the Second Coming of the Christ. 

Acknowledge your longing for things to be different. But, also?


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