Advent Week 1
The Thrill of Real Hope
by Stephanie Lane
Hope is a confident expectation that something will happen. But what about when it doesn’t happen?
I consider myself a hopeful person, and hope can be very exciting, filled with expectation of something great happening. Hope is like climbing a great mountain, where you know there will be an astounding view at the summit. You keep pushing, with that expectation lingering each step, even as you grow more tired and weary. It takes a lot of energy, but you hope in what’s ahead.
The problem is that much of what we hope for never leads us to that summit. The ground is shaky, filled with gravel. The air is filled with storms. You end up sitting exhausted on the side of a mountain, waiting for help to get down. Or running for cover with your arms out for protection from hail. Or worse yet, you stumble and then tumble down to what seems like the very place you started.
And so our hope, initially strong and full, results in a shaky, weak, and often disappointing ending. This happens when our hope, and our great expectations, are in something that can’t help but fall short.
There were two things I hoped for deeply when I was younger, both centered around relationships. Hope in relationships can drive us to do great things, but it can also let us down or lead us to crumble.
My parents went through a bitter divorce when I was 10 years old that left our family fractured and trying to pick up the pieces for the following decade. There was very little hope during that dark time, but there was one. My siblings and I hoped so desperately there might be reconciliation and restoration between them. We had seen the movie The Parent Trap many times, and knew with just the right place, right time, and a magical moment where they put aside all of their differences, it was possible. We hoped so hard. We were encouraged by their occasional ability to have lunch together, and struck down each time they decided they were going back to court to fight about custody or child support. Our hope was shaky, then weak, and then gone completely as we realized it would never happen.
A second thing I hoped for deeply throughout my teenage and young adult years was for a relationship; a boyfriend, and ultimately, a husband. I hoped so deeply in my romantic relationships that when each one dissolved, I endured long periods of sadness and regret -- even when I was the one to end it. There was one relationship in particular that I hoped in for years and years. It started as a hope in something so pure and good, and over the years I believed this man was surely the one God had planned for me and hoped in our bright future. Our story was magical, was meant to be, and hope in it affected ourselves and others in significant ways. But even when all the barriers were lifted, something wasn’t right. Actually, a lot of things weren’t right, and we clearly weren’t meant to be. I was disappointed and devastated that a hope that had been so high for so long could come crashing down hard and fast.
Hope in people and relationships is not uncommon, nor is it wrong. But to put our highest and deepest hopes in those that cannot, even with the best intentions, fulfill those hopes, is only setting up hurt and disappointment for all involved. Even the best people, and even the truest relationships, can't endure the weight of our highest hopes from the deepest part of our hearts.
Then what are we to hope in?
“The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light
Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
On them has light shone.” (Isaiah 9:2)
It wasn't until college that I discovered a new hope. Away from the bustle of my freshman year of college on a service trip with a slightly "weird" group of Christian kids from my university, I heard the beat of hope. The quiet voice that said this hope was different, was solid, was a mountain worth climbing because the view at the top would be magnificent and lasting. This hope, like so many before, was also in a relationship, but this time was in one with Jesus. The hope that swelled up in my heart that day as I walked through the trees was real, and soon would be growing strong. It was one I already knew couldn't be shattered and wouldn’t disappoint. And that was the most thrilling feeling I’d ever know.
This season of Advent we are reminded of the hope we have in Bethlehem and in the unexpected, beautiful birth that happened there over 2000 years ago.
I love the verse in the Christmas hymn O Holy Night that says:
"A thrill of hope,
The weary world rejoices,
As yonder breaks,
A new and glorious morn..."
Hope in Jesus, and in what He came to do, is thrilling because it is so real, it is unending, and it fills our deepest desires to climb that mountain, knowing that we’ll arrive at the top, and be astounded and thrilled.
This Advent season we remember Bethlehem, where a glimmering hope for many came alive with the birth of a tiny baby Jesus, who came to be hope for the hopeless, the Savior of the world.