by Barry Howard
Advent is a time to reclaim the hope we have in Christ. Our hope in Christ reminds us that through the ever-changing circumstances and seemingly insurmountable challenges of life, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
As our nation emerges ever-so-gradually from a recession, economic uncertainty has become a global concern, with many European countries either re-organizing or teetering on the brink of financial collapse.
As we prepare for a crucial election year, the rhetoric of the campaigns already sounds more indicative of superficial political posturing than substantive problem-solving.
A general cultural malaise that is saturated with complaint and almost devoid of optimism seems to be contagiously infectious, not just around the nation, but around the world. And to make matters worse, that sense of hopeless discontent has infiltrated the church. If the community that has been called to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13), the very bastion of hope, forfeits hope for hopelessness, we may find ourselves rushing toward an apocalyptic future.
Real hope is neither blind nor naïve. Real hope motivates us to rise above despair and deal with challenging circumstances proactively, constructively, and collaboratively.
A few years ago I read of a rather profound exchange between two clergy who were working together during a season filled with monumental changes. In 1960, John Claypool began his tenure as pastor at the Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville. Shortly after his arrival, Claypool became friends with a Jewish rabbi who was forty years his senior. Their friendship grew deeper as they worked together in the civil rights movement. After a tense and unproductive meeting one day, Claypool looked at his Jewish friend and said, “I think it is hopeless. This problem is so deep, so many-faceted, there is simply no way out of it.”
The rabbi asked Claypool to stay a few minutes after the meeting and said, “Humanely speaking, despair is presumptuous. It is saying something about the future we have no right to say because we have not been there yet and do not know enough. Think of the times you have been surprised in the past as you looked at a certain situation and deemed it hopeless. Then, lo and behold, forces that you did not even realize existed broke in and changed everything. We do not know enough to embrace the absolutism of despair. If God can create the things that are from the things that are not and even make dead things come back to life, who are we to set limits on what that kind of potency may yet do?”
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31
Like the stoking of warm embers to re-awaken the flame, hope can be rekindled by stoking the fire in our bones that propels us “to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8) in all of the seasons of life.
Advent is a season to rekindle our hope and to renew our strength, a hope inspired by God’s perspective and strength that motivates us toward God’s plan, realized on earth as it is in heaven.
(Barry Howard serves as senior minister at the First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Florida.)