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Advent - Hope

Christmas is a time of mixed emotions for many individuals. Some of us are the crazy Christmas people who started decorating in July ... some of us lean to Scrooge who throughout most of the Christmas Carol, refuses to celebrate or even allow anyone else to celebrate. Most people fall somewhere between the two; I lean more to Scrooge because I prefer Christmas to be limited to the month of December (personally, that's stretching it a bit much, for me though).

One of the traditions that I do enjoy is Advent - those weeks before Christmas arrives. This week is the first week of Advent, and it celebrates Hope - something we all need.

Christmas, according to some, is a Christian over-taking of a pagan holiday. There seems to be some agreement that is the case, but most of our facts are lost to the early reaches of time. Suffice it to say Christmas falls around mid-winter when it is darkest outside, and when families gather together. Liturgically, it is the beginning of the Church's calendar year to focus on the coming birth, death and resurrection of Christ; reaching a crescendo with Easter it culminates with Pentecost.

Defining Hope

Hope is one of those interesting words. When I was little, I was taught two different concepts behind the word. One is wishful: I hope it will snow on Christmas (something, I might add was rare in an area controlled by the Chesapeake Bay). The other was certain: My hope is founded on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, the grammarians will point out that the first hope is a verb, while the second is a noun. Merriam-Webster defines hope as a verb: to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true. As a noun: the feeling of wanting something to happen and thinking that it could happen; a feeling that something good will happen or be true; the chance that something good will happen; someone or something that may be able to provide help; someone or something that gives you a reason for hoping.                             
Synonyms include words like trust, reliance.
Like hope, trust has both a noun and verb, but both verb and noun mean: to believe that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.; to have confidence in (someone or something)
Reliance is the state of being reliant, meaning: needing someone or something for help, support, etc.
Hope, therefore, is feeling that we can believe someone who is reliable, good, honest, and effective to be our support in time of help.
Now, my independent Baptist background kicks in: feelings are transient, we cannot trust them (normally a Bible verse is thrown at me this time: Jeremiah 17:9 is the best). Knowledge - the knowing for certainty of something - is best. Therefore, know - be certain - in your heart that you can hope in the Lord.

Certainty in Uncertainty

The world is a big, dark place for a child; sometimes, growing up only makes it bigger and darker, not smaller and brighter. In all honesty, the world of my adulthood has turned out to be scarier than the world of my childhood, partly because I know more.
I was born in 1982 - that year was at the beginning of the Reagan administration. By the time I was fifteen, space travel was normal; we saw the fall of the USSR; and were in a position of power. The future looked bright for humanity, but the world changed in 2001 when overseas dangers attacked American soil. By the time I turned twenty, the world was in another war: a subversive war that pitted people against each other, based on doctrines and clothing. A war where the combatants could be a neighbor; where attacks could come from any sector, at any time. In my childhood, train derailments were accidents; in my adulthood, the first words usually involve: this is not a terrorist act, but an accident, as though somehow, an accident is better than a terrorist attack.
The past ten years have opened my eyes to persecution, human trafficking, and abuse. Hope is often fleeting, and rarely certain. It can be hard enough to trust myself or my family I know and can see; it's harder to trust God I cannot see.
Those older than me, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers (I'm at the forefront of the Millennials), often wonder why it is that my generation focuses on religion/spirituality and less on Christianity. In my low-church world (a term focusing on the amount of ritual; the Catholic church would be considered High-Church whereas the Amish would be considered Low-Church), people wonder about the amount of ritual creeping into the church. I'll give an example: the Sunday after the Newtown Shooting, my pastor's wife set twenty-six white candles in front of the church on a mirror. Behind me, I heard a friend ask her husband, "Why are all those candles here?" The tone of voice was accusatory, as though we don't need candles in this church.
Because many in my conservative Protestant world believe that the High-Church is borderline idol worship, one can understand their hesitancy, as well as the confusion. Advent, ironically, is a means to introduce ritual without the baggage of other High-Church elements such as liturgical readings. What I've discovered is the element of ritual - the lighting of the candles each Sunday for Advent, or taking the time to observe Lent - has lent itself to be a grounding for individuals. When we cannot hope in uncertainty, the certainty of lighting a match, setting it to a wick and watching a candle glow, is something certain we can do.

These Three Things

"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (1 Corinthians 13:13, King James Version).
As a child, I wondered about the above verse, but someone explained why charity, love, is the greatest which I'll explain towards the end of Advent. Hope, I was told, was in the future: we have the hope that Christ will return. We can believe Him to do what He said He would do for He can be depended upon when we are in trouble.
By our nature, we look to the future; we live in linear time, so we can only go forward, not backward. The 'what might be' drives us forward, and hope is why we look forward. If we have hope, the future may not always look brighter, but we know that we can trust Someone who already knows the future, which gives us a reason to believe something good will happen.


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