For the second Sunday of Advent I was asked to light the candle at church & speak a brief word on the meaning of hope. Being the seminary geek that I am I have to do some research & do some mad exegesis before I can say anything, mostly just for my own entertainment. The passage that stuck with me & that I used was Romans 5: 1-5.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
If you were to do a search of “hope” in the Bible it always relates to one of two things: the character of God or the assurance of our eternal destiny. It’s never about circumstance – in fact, hope & circumstance are mortal enemies. Hope is to be grounded in something certain rather than tethered to something that constantly changes. We heard a lot about hope in the political arena in the last couple of years & more recently there’s been a wave of disappointment because the person in whom this hope was placed has been perceived as not fulfilling promises. It’s a very relevant, colorful picture of the perils of misplaced hope.
Something about this passage intrigued me & that is the progression of suffering to character to hope. It seems to indicate that hope is a product of character which is a product of suffering. For this passage to say that hope is produced by character is to say that hope is something that can’t be faked. It has to come from a genuine place that is at the center of who you are. The troubling part is that is also seems to say that hope can only come after suffering. No one wants to hear that, but there it is. Is it possible to have real hope w/o suffering? I don’t know.
Faith & hope are similar creatures. However, faith is the certainty in the uncertain, whereas hope is certainty in the certain – that is God’s character. God promised for centuries that God would send a Redeemer. The people waited & waited. And waited. Makes my own waiting for a few weeks, months or even years pale in comparison. It’s no wonder that Jesus wasn’t recognized. After that many years of waiting, things can get distorted. It’s a strenuous discipline to continually focus on our belief that God is who God says God is & keep the distractions of our images of what we think is best for us at bay.
I have things on which I have been waiting for years, promises that I know were made but have yet to be fulfilled. It’s a calling for all who want to follow Christ to maintain a focus on the unseen the yet-to-be-fulfilled. Advent reminds us of the reality of the not-yet that characterizes the spiritual path. Here’s hoping.