HOPE OF ADVENT
The reason why Pixar movies are so popular is not only because of their attention-grabbing animation, but also because many of their themes resonate deeply with Hope, something we desperately need in our world. We are captivated by their stories and awed by their imagination, beauty and truth even amidst stark and strenuous circumstances.
One of my favorites is Finding Nemo. After having escaped from a hungry shark, the fish Marlin and Dory are exhausted. Marlin’s son Nemo is lost and his hopes in finding him have grown dim. Discouraged, he cries out “That was my only chance at finding my son; now it’s gone!” But Dory encourages him. “Hey, Mr. Grumpy Gills,” she says, “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!”
Dory sings in anticipation to the Hope she (and us) cling to when we face the gloom of the unexpected and uncertain of life.
A Flickr of Light
Like Marlin, we too face seasons of losses, chronic sickness, failed relationships, sin and suffering, plunging us into the dark deep sea of despair. How often we find ourselves in the abyss of sin and suffering and reconcile with fate? How often we give up hope?
Yet it is here, in the midst of our deranged circumstances that the season of Advent ushers in, to offer that which our soul longs for – Hope.
Hope is that beacon of light in the dark sea. Hope is that wind whispering “Just keep swimming”.
To a beleaguered nation, experiencing fear and isolation, despair and destruction, the weeping prophet Jeremiah announced Hope (Jeremiah 33). Not Hope that suggests wishful thinking, but a Hope resting on the solid reality of Emmanuel, God with us. Jeremiah was prophesying a new kind of Hope, emerging from the One coming to make all things new – One who is our very Lighthouse and Anchor in life’s stormy seas. Jeremiah communicated this Hope, described as a tiny shoot coming “up from the stump of Jesse,” like a “righteous Branch” sprouting from “David’s line” (Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 33:15). In the midst of uncertainty, isolation and exile from home, God reminded them that His plans for them were good, that His plans were to prosper them, not to harm them, plans to give them hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
In the wake of all that is lost, they were asked to seek that which sustains. In the center of their deficiency, they were awakened to their destiny. In the midst of uncertainty they were called to move toward the future, working for it, in the present.
I wonder what that might have looked like to make long-term commitments like marrying, building houses, and planting gardens while living in a foreign land. I wonder what memories swept their hearts as they lifted stones to build their houses now overtaken by the enemy. I wonder what emotions stirred their spirits knowing they may never enjoy the harvest they were planting. Yet this is where Hope is most valuable. We see its light where all is removed, all is dark. And we see it emerging like a tiny shoot of life, where all is dead and decaying.
Laboring for Hope NOW
The Advent Hope is not a passive activity. It is Hope that moves us in the “Now” of God.
It is Hope that moves us out of our comfort zones, into the plans of God. It is Hope that brings us to our knees in surrender and it is Hope that makes us attentive to a world suffering.
It may have taken agonizing years and generations before the promised Hope appeared. But it did – in the person of Jesus, “Our Righteous Savior” (Jeremiah 33:16), the Divine seed entrusted to Joseph and Mary, the tiny shoot sprouting from the stump of Jesse.
We cannot always fathom the mysteries of God’s plan in salvation, neither can we control God’s timing. But this we know, that God keeps his promises—in history, to His people, and to individuals. That God always shows up. That God will fulfill His plans for our lives in ways we least expect. That God will give us Hope when all seems lost.
Perhaps you’re in a place of all things dark and heavy. Perhaps your anticipated dreams for a good future have come crumbling to the ground. Perhaps great waves of anguish and fear surround you, making you feel lost with no hope that things can change for the better. Whatever your struggle is, the Hope of Advent is in your “NOW”, for the One we follow to the cave at Bethlehem is Emmanuel, God with us.
God is with us ‘Now’, and that changes everything about our future.
N. T. Wright in ‘Surprised by Hope’ says, “people who believe in the Resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.” We are people of the NOW, continuing to labor in love, working in anticipated Hope for the light that has come (Isaiah 60:1) is powerful enough to break into all of the darkness of our past guilt, present pain, and future anxieties, pointing us to brighter days ahead.
The Jewish exiles could make long-term commitments like marrying, building homes, and planting gardens not because they’d given up hope of returning to Israel but because they put their hope in God. They trusted that, one day, they would see the fulfillment of those promises. And so do we who believe in the Incarnation.
On days when we’re tempted to ride on wings of the dawn and escape to the far end of bottomless seas, may we find comfort knowing that we are held secure by Emmanuel. This God who gave up the glory of Heaven and made His home in a humble cave, so we could find our way to Him, so we could discover that He came to seek us and join us in all that we suffer in our present moment.
This is Hope!