The Gift of Hope
Throughout time, hope has ever remained one of the greatest gifts that we can offer to one another. Amid whatever befalls us in life, knowing that we have hope can ease pain and suffering, can bring light into our darkness and can set troubled hearts and minds at rest. But when we live without hope, we find our pain and suffering grows, we can feel the light fade and darkness grow deeper and we experience no relief from our anxieties and insecurities.
The holy book we know as the Bible chronicles the history of a people; a people whose encounters with the one we know as the Lord God – Creator of the universe – led them on many journeys from one part of the ancient world to another. The call of Abram to leave the country of Ur and take a faith journey with this God began what would be a long and growing relationship for the people we have come to know as Israelites and later as the Jewish people. That journey was filled with great promise and great struggles. That journey led them into new areas that brought prosperity but also persecution. The people experienced tremendous highs but also incredible lows. Not every situation that they faced was the result of their own choices, but many were. Yet through it all, there was one constant and that was the presence of the God who had called Abram and renamed him Abraham making him the father of a nation whose allegiance in life was to the God who found him and guided him.
In every generation and through every changing situation in the world that surrounded the people, God was present speaking through the patriarchs, then the judges and then the prophets. Each communicated a message that the people in that time needed to hear. Each experienced both joys and hardships for their willingness to be the servants of God but each knew and ever reminded the people that no matter what might befall them in life, whether it was a circumstance that they had control over or one beyond their control, they were never to believe that they were a people without hope for God would never abandon his people.
You could say that God was the first practitioner of tough love. God never shied away from calling the people to account for their actions or decisions. God never shied away from reminding the people of the covenant that they had made and the resulting obligations to live the life God had envisioned with laws designed to sustain human life and support human community. And while they suffered great hardships – even to the point of losing their homeland and being taken captive by foreign powers – they were ever reminded that God had not deserted them, nor had he withdrawn his love for them. They had hope – hope not only for tomorrow but hope for today.
To live our lives in peace and security is the great hope of every people in every place and in every time. To be able to see laws maintained and justice exercised in a fair manner is also the hope of every people in every place and in every time. The reality is that in this life such peace and security can often be inconsistent or even absent. Laws can and will be broken and justice can appear to be anything but fair. But just as the people of Israel were encouraged, we are encouraged in our day to not give up hope – hope for justice, hope for truth, hope for peace and hope for security.
The people of Israel were to find hope through following the laws of God and committing themselves to live by the vision of God. In that way they could be a people of light in the darkness of the world. They could be a people who did not create gods but who were in a relationship with a living God. That was their calling and the hope they held onto was that this living God would never let go of them or ever give up on them.
The advent, the dawn, the arrival of hope in the form of the One born of Mary and of God was to be the ultimate sign of hope – hope for life in the present time but also hope for a future life in a kingdom that nothing in all creation could ever corrupt or destroy. The ministry of Jesus – which included many miracles – was designed to give concrete proof to the people that their hope in God for their lives was not unfounded or misguided. God wanted the people to embrace the spirit of the law given to them. The miracles were to be signs of hope – hope that God truly loved the people and wanted nothing more than for them to live lives that would celebrate the wholeness of humanity that God had designed them to experience.
Just as the life of the people of Israel is chronicled through the pages of the Old Testament, the life of the people of the early church is chronicled through the pages of the New Testament. Here we encounter people who have been given a greater hope than the generations that preceded them. They have been given hope for today, hope for tomorrow and hope for eternity. They have been encouraged to embrace the gift of hope revealed through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and commit themselves to following the teachings of Jesus. They are to commit themselves to building their community life in accordance with the revelations made by God through Jesus and so reveal to the world around them a pattern for living designed to bring healing in body, mind and spirit.
Somehow, we have the impression that life as believers of God is to be pain free, hassle free, without trial or tribulation; yet that is never the message that comes through either in the Gospels or the letters or other writings found in the New Testament. Instead we find Paul and others writing words designed to bring hope to those who are experiencing challenges, difficulties and hardships both in their lives together in community and from the wider world around them.
But note that at no point do any of the authors suggest that such things mean that God is not present, nor is there any suggestion that any failure to experience healing in every way is a sign of God’s withdrawal of love or grace. Rather the believers are encouraged to stand firm in their faith, to seek to follow the example given to them by Jesus and so not lose hope for the present but also know that there is hope for the future – even that future beyond this present life.
Everyone in life follows principles and has a code of ethics. Our principles and our code of ethics come from the revelation of our God through the prophets, through Jesus and through the gift of the Holy Spirit. These principles and code of ethics are to inform our decisions, our thoughts and our actions. It is our belief in these principles and the One who has given us these principles that instills within us hope – hope for our present life lived in this moment, hope for our future life while breath is still ours and hope for a life beyond this life when we will experience what is beyond the veil.
To believe in the gift of hope given to us by God – the hope of a life lived in a kingdom ruled by our God alone – is a hope that we are never to abandon.