Advent & Hope

In my last blog I tried to share with you the idea of Advent and our longing for Jesus, lyricized in Fernando Ortega’s song “Give me Jesus”. Ortega prayerfully asks to receive Jesus in the morning when he rises, to receive Jesus when he is alone, and to receive Jesus, his heart’s desire, when it comes time to die. I pray for that same kind of heart-longing for Jesus. You can have all this world but give me Jesus.  

Today I would like to encourage your Advent longing for Jesus. I write with a sense of honor and privilege, that you would perhaps take the time to read some of my thoughts here. I deeply want to encourage you with what has become for me, one of my favorite times of the year. In Advent, we celebrate both the first coming/advent of Jesus in His birth, and we anticipate His Second Coming when He returns to live forever with His people in His Kingdom. We wait for that time. And, as you know, waiting can be hard. In the 1994 film “The Shawshank Redemption” the two main characters Morgan Freeman (“Red”) and Tim Robbins (“Andy) play two prisoners who have been incarcerated for years. In one scene, they are talking about hope.  Hope, in many ways is the main driving theme in the film, yet both Red and Andy have different ways of looking at hope. Red, the older character and has been imprisoned for years and in one conversation with Andy (the younger man), he says, “Hope is a dangerous thing my friend. It can kill a man. Hope can drive a man insane.”  It’s also in this conversation where Red tells Andy about the cold stone walls of the prison: ““These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.” You see, like many of us if we are not careful, Red has given up any hope of freedom. It hurts too much to hope. Andy, the younger man, up until this point has refused to be “institutionalized”. He is still hoping for his freedom and because of this, has a different view of “hope”. He tells Red that “hope is a good thing, may be the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Now Andy’s view of hope is not a fully formed biblical view of hope, but it does come closer to what the Bible describes as our hope than Red’s does. Perhaps Andy is right when he says of hope: “No good thing ever dies.”  During this Advent season as we wait for our blessed hope (Jesus! – see Titus 2:13), I am reminded of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13ff). They were sad. Despondent. Their hopes had been dashed once again. The resurrected Jesus struck up a conversation with them along the way, asking them what they were talking about. I find the following conversation a bit humorous. They told Jesus all about “Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him p to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel . . .” We had hoped. And so do we. We hope. Sometimes we hope in our hope. Without even knowing this is what we are doing. But, of course, if we hope in our ability/resolve to hope, even if the Ultimate Object of our hope is Jesus Himself, like Red in Shawshank, hope might indeed drive us insane. We become “institutionalized” and resolve to keep ourselves safe from the varied aches that come with hope.  SO MUCH could be said here but let me just leave you with what I hope to be, a few words of encouragement from the book of Romans to keep your Advent Hope alive. First, I want to remind you that if our hope is in Jesus Himself (not when and how He might work), then our Hope will never disappoint us. We will never be put to shame. That’s what we read in Romans 5:5. Yes, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, me might get disappointed when Jesus doesn’t come through how and when we think He should, but ultimately, He comes to us to love to remind us He is faithful and can be depended upon. There have been so many times in my life when I have become a bit bitter/cynical because I thought Jesus was the “one to redeem Israel”, or, in my case, I think He should work in such and such a way in my life. Then, when He doesn’t, I become a bit jaded. God, in His kindness to me over the years has always shown me in one way or another, that He has a timing and ways, not always shared by me. But to this point in my life, He, my blessed Hope, has proven faithful, again and again. Try to remember that when you are tempted to give up hope.  The second passage is in Romans 8:18-25 and in some ways builds upon what Paul has already mentioned in the Romans 5 passage. Briefly, Paul talks about the co-existence of both groaning and hope. Initially, we wouldn’t think there would be much of a relationship between groaning and hope, yet they are intimately related. In verse 23, after Paul mentions the whole creation groaning, he says, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. . .” (Rom. 8:23-24). You see, while we might initially consider “groaning” to have a negative connotation and “hope” to have a more positive meaning, both belong together. My friend, if you are groaning inwardly, it is not a bad thing. It is a sign that the Holy Spirit has begun a new life in you which has already sprouted, reaching heavenward, awaiting the hope that we do not yet fully have  but will. Have (Rom. 8:25). We will not be disappointed. So, when you groan and ache inwardly, ask God for the grace to remember these longings are both expressions of the Life in us, and anticipations of His Life/Return/Advent to come. So, friend, do not give up hope, especially the Hope that is Jesus. And, whenever you ache/groan, learn to celebrate the promises of God in Christ. The groans, though hard at times, are pointers to the Promise. A Hope that will never let us go, even when we feel like we’re in prison.