Advent 2015: Hope over Despair

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these Love”
1 Corinthians 13:13

“Hope springs eternal” as the saying goes. I’m a big fan of the TV series “Boston Legal” where Bill Shatner’s character quotes it as “Hope springs a kernel” referring to a farmer planting seeds. It made me laugh.

It made me think.

We plant seeds every day. Hebrews 11 tells us faith is the substance of what we hope for. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that if the greatest is Love , then logically we read importance backwards, making hope the second most important.

Without hope we can have no faith.

We accepted Christ out of Hope for a future Eternal Life in Him and Salvation through His Sacrifice. That hope allowed us to receive the Faith from God to believe.

Love may be the cornerstone of the bridge, but Faith and Hope are either side holding it in place.

Hope, then, is crucial to the Christian life. Hebrews 11 describes Faith as the substance of that which is hoped for. Without hope there can be no Faith. We would be lost.

The message of the Gospel, the words Jesus Himself spoke, were the “Good News”. He announced His ministry’s commencement in Luke by reading the prophet Isaiah’s words that said the Messiah would declare a year of Jubilee – the acceptable Year of the Lord. To us in our modern world this doesn’t mean much, but the announcement by Jesus to a synagogue full of Jewish listeners would have been profound. Only the Christ would make such a declaration. A declaration of Hope in a time of complete despair. The voices of the Prophets had been silent for hundreds of years, then came John the Baptist announcing the coming Messiah. Now Jesus declared His arrival.

Hope rekindled in listeners’ hearts.

Many thought he was blaspheming in the worst possible way. He’d grown up in Nazareth and was known by them. Now this declaration. They moved to kill Him on the spot:

“So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.” [Luke 4:28-30]

A message of Hope in a space where only despair has been known for so long seemed impossible.

Things are no different today.

We live in a time where the rich and powerful control everything. The poorest of the poor in the Third World are in countries crippled by debt to the First World banks. Even those African countries that might be able to be self sufficient are crippled by this debt.

Living in South Africa I see a world of contrasts every day. I have a friend who lives in a makeshift house cobbled together from corrugated iron and without running water or electricity. Another rents a room for herself and her daughter in a space too small to park a car in. Her six-year-old daughter was so proud to tell me they had moved in because now they had their own toilet.

Then there are the people I work with. Series 5 BMW car, living in an area where the regular power-cuts due to mis-management of the utility provider for 20 years don’t affect them. Houses there are large and have massive gardens. Some even measured in hectares. These homes cost millions of Dollars – tens of millions of Rands.

But more than the contrast I see one thing. The poorest people have long since given up hope of ever improving their situation. What looked so promising with Nelson Mandela’s election is a lifetime ago.

Hope wanes, and Faith goes with it. Just like ancient Nazareth under Roman rule.

Christianity at it’s heart is a message of Hope. It is a gentle wind to fan the embers of shattered hope back into a flame. Hope for the poor. Hope for the sick. Hope for the tired, the broken, the lonely.

Hope for those who are dead and empty inside. Jesus declared He had come to bind up the broken-hearted.

Depression defeated.

I’ve suffered depression. In 1999 I attempted suicide. Four times in less than 2 months.

I lost hope.

My friends and pastor were able to get alongside me and slowly pry the Hope of the Gospel back into me. After a year of deaths and illnesses I was gently brought back by the message of the Gospel. My broken heart was bandaged and healed by the Love of Jesus shown me through His people.

My life now is far from easy. Again, illness has rocked my family, but I have been able to hold onto the thread of Hope in Jesus so leaving a job that was making me sick and finally being diagnosed with ADD didn’t decimate me – rather it gave me answers to build on.

My Faith holds fast because I have Hope in the face of despair.

Read psalm 23. The table is spread in the presence of our enemies. Those who would seek to destroy us get to watch us feast – if we hold fast to the Hope He gives us.

Our hope is more than an Earthly one.

“To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” [Colossians 1:27] 

When we look at the Bible as a commentary on itself and consider Jesus’s teachings at the Last Supper, the hope we seek comes from two places: perspective and Godliness. Growing towards God will only bring hope. As we move through this life trying to do that we need to hold fast to perspective. When the World strikes us down in whatever way, we can find Hope in God’s message that all we are going through now is a birthing process for Eternity in His presence.

Surely that is something to have Hope about.

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