This Advent season, as we prepare our hearts for the birth of Jesus, we have invited a series of guest bloggers to reflect on hope, joy, peace, and love. We invite you to reflect with us on the implications of what Jesus did on our behalf and on behalf of the people of La Limonada. Today’s guest post is from Chris Schutte, pastor of Christ Church Anglican in Phoenix.
“What are you hoping to get for Christmas this year?” This question will be asked countless times over the next several weeks, as Thanksgiving, the last levee holding back the deluge of “The Holiday Shopping Season”, will be past, and the flood waters will rise quite suddenly. However, simultaneously, the liturgical season of Advent begins, and, with it, an affirmation of the hope we have as Christians living in times of places full of darkness.
The question, “What are you hoping to get for Christmas this year?” should sound dissonant, if only faintly, because, in the Christian’s vocabulary, the meaning of “hope” is much thicker than the uncertainty communicated by our contemporary usage of the word.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, “hope” emerges as a central theme. Paul begins Chapter 5 by discussing the results of being justified by faith. He writes, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5). So, because we have been justified, we are at peace with God, and, as a result, we have a hope of sharing the glory of God. (To the Colossians, Paul writes that the “mystery” revealed among the Gentiles is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27)). Since we are at peace with God, and have the hope of glory, we can endure suffering in the present, because, even in the midst of suffering, we experience the love of God through the presence of God’s Spirit.
Paul continues this connection between hope and the presence of the Spirit in Romans 8, when he writes, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:19-25). In Christ, we have received the “first fruits” of the Spirit, which then allows us to live confidently in the midst of suffering, longing with all of creation for redemption, but the certainty that this redemption has, in Christ, already begun. To the Ephesians, Paul writes that we have been “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
As we enter the season of Advent, then, a crucial question becomes, “What is our hope?” NT Wright, in his book Surprised by Hope, suggests that the early Christians “believed that God was going to do for the whole cosmos what he had done for Jesus at Easter” (93). Our hope, then, of a renewed creation is grounded in the historical fact of the resurrection, and reinforced by the present experience of the Spirit.
On the first Sunday in Advent, the scripture readings tend to focus on the Second Coming of Jesus, that moment in which the world, to use NT Wright’s phrase, will be “put to rights”, a time when God’s enemies, the last being death itself (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:26), will be finally defeated and God’s people will be vindicated. Bob Dylan’s song “When the Ship Comes In” brings out these themes, picturing a time when the “powers that be”, “like Pharoah’s tribe, They’ll be drownded in the tide, And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered,” and for those suffering, longing for redemption, “the sands will roll Out a carpet of gold For your weary toes to be a-touchin’.” At this, the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” will be finally answered with a resounding Yes!
This is our hope, and our hope is not a mere wish, something that may or may not happen. Our hope is rooted in what God has already done in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and in what God continues to do in and through His people by the Spirit. In this we hear, to use Bruce Cockburn’s words, “Rumors of Glory”, rumors that we, and, eventually, all of creation, will know to be true. This is our hope.