Advent is a season of hope. In the Scriptures, hope is much more than a wish for something better. When we say, “I hope so,” that usually means we aren’t sure but we sure would like to think so. Will we have a good Christmas this year? I hope so. Will we have good health in the new year? I hope so.
I have a friend who is a very pious Roman Catholic. She met Pope John Paul II in person once. When you say something like, “Jesus died for your sins and for His sake you have eternal life trusting in Him,” she’ll say, “I hope so.” She’s using “hope” in the same sense that we would use it when referring to something of which we can’t be sure. In her Roman Catholic theology, she can never be sure of her salvation, she would consider that “arrogant” or “presumptive” to know for certain that she was saved. She hopes that it is true, but she won’t know it for certain until she sees it. My friend is, as I said, a very pious Roman Catholic.
In the Scriptures, hope is more than a pious longing or wish. Hope is expectation based on a promise of God. We have hope because God says so. We have the hope of salvation because the Son of God assumed our humanity, lived our humanity perfectly under the Law, died for us on the cross under the Law, rose from the dead and now reigns in majesty. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. That is hope you on which you can hang your faith.
Hope goes together with faith and love in the Scriptures. Faith is trust in the promise of things hoped for but not yet seen. Love dares to hope all things because faith trusts that Jesus has reconciled all things to the Father. We can dare to hope that it all comes out good and well in the resurrection precisely because it came out good and well in Jesus’ resurrection.
Hope is coupled with endurance, patience under pressure. This is the tricky part, and the part that our impatient sinful nature doesn’t abide. Because hope looks to the future and not the present, we must be patient and endure all things in the present trusting that God has all our bases covered by the blood of His Son. That’s why Advent is a season of restraint and fasting. It’s a little exercise in patient endurance. You can’t have it all right away. In fact, all you get now is a little foretaste, a nibble of an appetizer. It’s enough to hold you and to keep you, but it’s not yet the whole thing, at least by sight. And so we confess that we have forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus, but there is precious little to look at. In fact, the harder we look, the less we’ll see. If you want to see the things of faith, you have to listen. The Word will reveal it to you.
Paul says that the OT Scriptures were given for our instruction. Not the kind of instruction that most people think of, like an “owner’s manual” to the Christian life, or principles to live purpose-driven, prosperous lives. But through endurance, this patience under pressure, and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
What’s Paul saying here? He’s saying that the purpose of the Scriptures, in this case the old testament, is intended to encourage us in our pilgrimage of patient endurance so that we would bear our cross in this life with hope, and even joy and peace. Paul wrote earlier in Romans that we, as the justified people of God, rejoice even in our sufferings. Yes, I read that correctly. We rejoice in our sufferings because suffering produces endurance (patience under pressure), 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 who has been given to us. (Romans 5)
It means that we can look to the history of old testament Israel and find hope for the church today; that we can look to the old testament saints like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or Moses and Elijah, or Gideon or David, or any of the others and find encouragement and hope for ourselves. What we’ll find there are not a bunch of plaster saints or Hollywood action figures but genuine sinner-saints who struggled with their sin, at times made terrible choices, didn’t always “get it right” in the religion department, and yet, and yet, by the undeserved kindness of God through faith in His promises they were justified, declared righteous in God’s sight and God used them as His instruments for blessings that trickle down even to us.
Push it a bit further. The Scriptures give us the template for understanding how God works. He takes a guy named Abram, changes his name, and promises to make him the father of nations when he and his wife are childless senior citizens. He takes a bunch of brick-making slaves in Egypt and makes them into a nation. And through that little nation, He promises to bring forth the Messiah, His anointed Servant, who would save not only the sons of Abraham but the rest of the nations, the Gentiles, to boot. And when God finally gets to the right and full time to make it all happen, He does it by way of a pregnant virgin, a manger, and a cross just to underscore the fact that the Word does what it says and nothing is impossible with God.
Now that’s cause for hope, dear friends in Christ. Sinners stand before God justified in Jesus’ righteousness because God says it, faith clings to it, and hope takes it all the way to the bank. Hope is the forward glance of faith. Looking back on what God has done in Christ – living, dying, rising – faith looks forward to the end, to Jesus’ advent in glory and there is hope, sure and certain hope. Christ has died, Christ has risen. It is finished. Done to death and on to life. Christ will come again, and the hope that sustains us is that He comes to bring life and salvation. And so as we look back on the virgin Mary, the manger, and the cross, we look forward to a future filled with hope by the Holy Spirit. It all comes out good and right in Jesus.
We don’t simply say, “I hope so,” but we know so. We know that this is as sure as Jesus risen from the dead is sure. And because we know so, we patiently endure all things in life and death in hope.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
In the name of Jesus,