By Diana Bridges
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
In Isaiah 7:14, God gives embattled King Ahaz a sign of hope, whether he wants one or not. As followers of Jesus, we see in these words the foreshadowing of the Incarnation. These aren’t really words of hope to us because we live on this side of the good news that is the life of Jesus. That particular hope has been fulfilled. Our Advent hope is focused instead on the coming of God to us, our families, or our church in new, transforming ways, and also on the Second Advent.
When we’re experiencing a time of uncertainty or crisis, as the Israelites were in Isaiah’s day, we might have an acute need for words of hope. We might be constantly scanning Scripture or other resources, listening to sermons, or grasping for meaning in the events and conversations of our days for assurance that all will be well.
Our hope doesn’t rest in words, however, but in the one who utters them. Thomas Merton said, “We can either love God because we hope for something from Him, or we can hope in Him knowing that He loves us.” Our hope isn’t finally dependent on prayers being answered in a particular way or in circumstances that make life easier. Our Advent hope is deeply rooted in the God who loves us — always, completely, unconditionally — and has vowed never to leave us, even after the final promise has been fulfilled.
This Advent, may our hope be renewed in the One who loves us.
By Garrett Vickrey
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Child development experts say the best way to raise “successful” and “well-adjusted” children is to teach delayed gratification. Of course, this flies in the face of everything else we experience on a daily basis where no gratification is ever delayed. Just try teaching a three year old that if she cleans her room then she can have chocolate.
Still, what we are trying to do when we teach delayed gratification is to instill the virtue of hope. We practice hope through self-discipline that teaches us the value of this essential to abundant life. The reason we all need to learn delayed gratification is so that we can flex our “hope” muscles in times of difficulty. At times we need to hold out and hang on through uncertainty. We need hope to be able to trust that things will get better.
This is essentially the idea behind this season, isn’t it? We teach children to wait for Christmas. They see the presents under the tree. They know there is something there for them. But, they have to wait. And in that waiting there is hoping. And the hope grows stronger in the waiting.
There are no better verses to read on this day ― the first Sunday of Advent― than words from Isaiah 40. This is the Sunday we light the candle of hope. Richard Rohr describes hope as, “The patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our Satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves.”
The mistake we make this time of year is in thinking that Christmas is just for children; or that we must return to some childlike faith. What the world needs is not more immature faith. The world needs your faith grown up.
This is the task of Advent: to wait in patience and trust in order to flex our hope muscles. So that we might prepare ourselves to receive the Christ who comes to us. In the wilderness prepare a way. In your life, clear a path. Find emptiness so there is a place to be filled by the one who comes at Christmas. Don’t rush to resolution or closure. Quick fixes and easy answers are spiritual blindness. Hold out for hope. The hope that the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. May you know that glory this year as we all work on that “delayed gratification” that stretches our hope and awaits the resolution of which we catch the slightest hint when we sing, “Joy to the World.”