“Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.” Jim Wallis, Editor, Sojourners Magazine
Advent is a season marked by hope. We travel back in time to first century Palestine, waiting in hope for the Messiah to come with the people of occupied Jerusalem and surrounding area. We join with fellow Christians around the world waiting in hope for Christ to come again, bringing to completion the Reign of God.
Hope is an “orientation of the spirit” says Vaclav Havel, Czech writer, “it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond the horizons.” The futuristic quality of hope keeps us moving forward. It also has nothing to do with our current situation. That is why it is possible for people to have hope in the worst of circumstances: in war time, in prison, in the midst of floods and famines and droughts. We find people who have hope when it seems they should not.
Havel also points out that hope is not the same as optimism. Optimism is the belief that something will turn out well. Hope is deeper than that. It is “the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” Hope does not rely on outcomes. It seems to me similar to the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness can easily be punctured when events no longer go your way. Joy can persist, even in the midst of hard times.
Hope has always been dangerous to oppressive systems precisely because it does not rely on success for validation. This was as true in Havel’s Czechoslovakia as it was in ancient Rome. Hope is important in the Hunger Games books and movies. The tyrannical President Snow tries to manage the amount of hope the people in the districts feel. Not enough hope and the people, driven to despair, wouldn’t produce enough goods to support the luxuries of the capitol. Too much hope, and they could be emboldened to revolt, realizing how terrible their situation is. It is a delicate balance.
I invite you to reflect on what sustains your hope this Advent and Christmas. What things do you believe will have meaning in your life, even if they do not turn out well? Can you see the world that is beyond your experience, something just a blip on the horizon? The promise of Christ’s return helps us continue to hope for the coming Reign of God and to live as if it were already here.
Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas,