We’re called to be people of hope, living differently in challenging times. How might we do this practically? And how is such countercultural, ‘hopeful’ living to be sustained?
An alternative to consumerism
A good place to start is by asking the question: What happens when people lose hope? Part of the answer is we live only for the present, often in selfish ways. The ‘advent’ of the shopping frenzy which is Black Friday reflects this. It’s a day alien to British culture, originally flowing out of Thanksgiving Day in the US. Yet it invaded our lives in 2013 as yet another day when we were encouraged to consume more and more. Then Cyber Saturday was added. Now there’s days and days of ‘Black Friday Deals’. We are consumed by consumerism and mired in materialism. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the earth gets depleted. And we are never satisfied. We always need just that little bit more.
So let’s be people who reflect our hope by living for the future and for others. Instead of the shopping trip, contact a friend and go for a walk. Instead of buying more and living cluttered, complicated lives, let’s buy less and enjoy what we have. Let’s be generous. Let’s share. Let’s show where our hearts and our hopes are truly set.
An alternative to darkness
Something else happens when we lose hope: we live in darkness. There’s been much darkness recently, but news that Covid vaccines are here, or at least on the way, is wonderful indeed. Announcing this, our Prime Minister talked about how the ‘searchlights of science’ had triumphed over the darkness of the virus. The ‘scientists have done it’ was the headline. As Christians we will want to question the exaltation of science to an almost godlike position and look behind it to praise the creator and sustainer God who is the source of all positive scientific and medical endeavour. But the point of talking about this is not to be critical. It’s to notice the use of light in such a ‘hopeful’ way. This has deep biblical resonance. At the beginning of creation God said let there be light and it was so. At the end of Revelation the new heavens and the new earth are full of sparkling precious stones that dazzle in the brilliant brightness. The darkness has been dispelled – for good. All this wonderful light is refracted through the person of Jesus who, in his own words, is the light of the world. And light is so closely linked with hope. The old cliché – light at the end of the tunnel – is freighted with hope. It’s tough going now, but there’s light ahead, things will get better, we can see it, let’s keep going… It may be a cliché, but it’s a very attractive one.
So let’s be people of hope-filled light, asking ourselves the question: How can I bring light to others walking in darkness? The answers can be simple. A word of kindness and calm in the midst of bitterness and anxiety. A word of wisdom in a situation of confusion, to people overcome with emotions such as anger or despair. A food parcel dropped off, a food bank supported, that Zoom call made when the last thing you really want to do is go online and talk to a friend when you’ve been in virtual meetings all day. Simple answers but profound. Answers that are full of hope and light. Whatever our frontlines are, let’s live differently. Let’s reflect the light of the world.
An alternative to secularism
Above all, let’s share Jesus, the embodiment of hope. It’s easy to be sad about what you can’t do this year, especially if you’re a church leader, especially if you’re in tier three! But are there things we can do now which maybe we couldn’t before? Invite people to the virtual carol service? Send people the link? Might it be that people this year are more open to a message of peace, more open to community, more questioning about the way they live, more open to the hope that is only found in Jesus? The British church has long prayed for revival: a time in the life of our nation where there is a great turning to God accompanied by real transformation. Some have hoped and prayed and prayed and hoped. But it seems – to quote Pete Greig – that God is ‘on mute’. Might this be the moment he breaks his silence? What a hope that is! Are we ready? God is stirring people’s hearts to seek him. Is he stirring yours to point the way for them to Jesus?
An Alternative to Despair: Sustained by Hope
How is such hopeful, light-filled living to be sustained in the midst of the ‘tunnel’ of darkness? It’s easy to think the answer is ‘Jesus’ or, perhaps, ‘Jesus and the Holy Spirit’. Of course both these answers are right! But I’m increasingly convinced there’s something more to be said. Let’s reflect for a moment. When Jesus tells us not to worry how does he encourage us? When the Bible urges us to look to Jesus to sustain us in our discipleship, what further detail is shared? The answer? We are told to look to the future. Don’t worry, says Jesus, instead build up ‘treasure in heaven’. Don’t be anxious, says Paul, for the Lord ‘is near’. Look to Jesus, the writer to the Hebrews tells us. Yes, ‘fix your eyes on him’. But look to him expressly as the ‘pioneer and perfecter’ of our faith who has run his race and ‘sat down at the right hand of God’, encouraging us also to run for the finish line. Know your future, the Bible says. In passage after passage, in the Old Testament and the New. The marriage supper of the Lamb is coming; the new heavens and the new earth are coming. The light at the end of the tunnel is no myth. The searchlight will become a floodlight. Look up the passages. Look to Jesus for present help, yes, for he shines a light in the darkness today. Allow the Holy Spirit to fill you with power. But look forward too. Let the Christian hope so capture you that you live in the light of its coming reality right here, right now. In the end it shouldn’t really surprise us: hopeful Christian living is sustained by drawing on the Christian hope itself. And what a hope it is.
This is part two in a two part series for Advent. Click here to read part one.