Confession: This is the first time I am truly celebrating Advent. For the first time, it is more than just 30 pieces of candy in a paper calendar, more than just a Bible-reading plan for the month of December. It is a time of true reflection for me personally and for us as a family.*
In the traditional lighting of Advent candles, each candle represents a core theme of Christianity. This week, the first week of Advent, is centered on Hope. The others are Peace, Joy, Love, & Christ. So I have been meditating a lot this week on hope. And I have concluded a few things about myself:
First, I have learned that I am afraid to hope. I am afraid that once I hope I will be condescendingly dismissed for being ignorant or naive. Why do I think this? Because that is how I used to treat other people. I thought that everyone needed to doubt everything. I thought skeptics were superior to those who believe simply and with conviction. It seems that we have a society of people who do not commit to anything. And it’s a game to see how long we can hold out on belief and conviction. And once someone slips us and hopes for something, a hoard of skeptics are ready to pounce, showing every hole of logic and why it’s not reasonable to hope in such a thing.
The irony is that there is still something inside of us that does hope. But we only let it come out as we watch movies, read books, or listen to music. In this way, we can live vicariously through the character’s hope without actually having to risk ridicule from outside and disappointment from within. Because the reality of it is, hope is faith. It is trusting in an idea or a person. And that involves risk. That is why I am afraid to hope. I am afraid to risk.
What I realized this week is that hope is both positive and negative. It is positive because it says “there may be something better.” But it is negative because if there might be something better, that means what you have right now might not be all that great. Hope rips away from us our current comfort while at the same time presents us something new. Hope is what drives Abraham away from his family to an unknown land. It leads us from security in the status quo to insecurity in the potentially better.
Second, because I am afraid to hope, I am increasingly for those who do. I think in our culture of cynicism and self-righteous detachment, hope takes enormous courage. My eagerness to tear down what others build up but my unwillingness to ever build anything myself is cowardice. It’s an unfair fight. It’s like throwing punches from outside the ring.
This is why I often find myself more in agreement with hopeful atheists than very narrow-thinking Christians and more in agreement with very simple-yet-faithful Christians than arrogant atheists. It’s because I believe that Christ came to bring a motivating hope, an example of what it means to hope for something in concrete, practical, and life-altering ways.
Both the “there is only one way to think about Christianity and it happens to be my way” Christian (by the way, this includes “progressives” who are certain that their old evangelical/mainline/whatever-you-used-to-be way of being a Christian is absolutely wrong) and the “there is nothing outside of science” atheists are essentially the same for me. Both exclude hope. Both exclude possibility. But what I find in Jesus is that with God, all things are possible.
This week may I find a way to hope in concrete ways, to stand up in practical ways for those who hope, and to be patient with those who do not.
*As a family, we are using this Jesse Tree devotional to talk about all the themes and events of Advent. It usually ends up with Augustine, Tov, & Elle playing with all the pieces of the Nativity while Sarah & I, along with Grandma and Grandpa listen to the stories and scriptures. My favorite part, however, is that each day we have a small activity (today’s is: do something out of love) to remind us of God. It also helps that for the first time in my life we are attending a church that takes Advent seriously and follows a liturgical calendar (we attend an episcopal church right now).