For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:12)
Each week in worship during the season of Advent we light one more Advent candle. For this first week of Advent, we have lit the candle of hope. But what is hope?
In our world today, hope is often little more than a wishy-washy wish list, or just another way of expressing what we want. "I hope I win the lottery." "I hope I get a new phone for Christmas." "I hope it's not cancer." Hope is wishing that something will happen whether or not we believe it is possible.
Biblical hope, the hope of faith, Advent hope, is more. In the Old Testament, hope means to wait and trust. It is the assurance that God will fulfill God's promises in God’s own time. Hope for the people of Isaiah was the conviction that they would return from exile and the holy nation of Israel would be restored and all of creation will celebrate on that great and glorious day! They didn't wish they could go home. They were waiting until the day they could go home because they trusted God's promise that they would go home.
When we light the first candle of Advent, we trust that what God has begun in the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, God will finish. The Beloved Community of God which Jesus proclaimed and worked for IS coming, all worldly evidence to the contrary. We wait and trust.
But there is an active side of hope, too. The wishy-washy wish list hope of the world today doesn't do much. It doesn't change who we are or make us act any differently, other than perhaps buy a lottery ticket. Our hope which is centered on God and God's promises, on the other hand, does produce results. It changes us, allowing us to walk this journey with confidence and courage. It fills us with joy knowing that the day will come when even the mountains and the trees will rejoice in God's new creation. And most importantly, real, honest, faithful hope affects how we act. Knowing a better world is coming, we prepare for it by living as if it is already here.
As we light the candle of hope this Advent season, may it kindle a spark of hope in you as well. Because our hope is anchored in the promises of God, we live boldly in that Beloved Community that has already come.
Live in hope.