Summary: An exposition of hope, its meaning, how it differs from wishful thinking, how it impacts upon our life, and how it can be rekindled.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and the theme for the first Sunday of Advent is HOPE. In fact, my entire sermon this morning will deal with this topic. Hope isn’t something that is universally understood. Many critics of our Christian religion criticize it because they feel that Christianity is based upon mere hope, that is, wishful thinking. Well, I’m here to tell you this morning that there is nothing wrong with hope. In fact, hope, like faith itself, is a precious gift of God and it is fundamental to our faith.
In fairness to the critiques, I will acknowledge that there are two types of hope—the garden variety which says things like, “I hope the Vikings win the Super Bowl”, or, “I hope it doesn’t rain today”, or, “I sure hope the geography teacher doesn’t give us a test today”. Such statements are mere wishful thinking and have nothing to do with the deepest recesses of the soul. But there is a far more important and significant kind of hope—and this, like faith, not only touches the recesses of the soul, it too, like faith, is a gift from God.
Hope, in the Christian sense, is not the same as mere wishful thinking. And, we need never be apologetic that hope is so central a part of our faith. Those who criticize our faith as “mere hope”, simply haven’t experienced the more profound type of hope that is so much a part of our faith. When we as Christians speak of hope, the hope of which we are speaking is not the garden variety of hope, but rather a profound gift of God intimately bound to our faith experience. It is something precious and to be treasured.
In Psalm 33:18-19 we read: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.”
In Jeremiah 29:11 we read: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
In Romans 5:1-2 we Paul writes: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
In 2 Corinthians 1:7, 11 Paul writes: “Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”
In First Timothy 4:10 Paul writes: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
In Titus 1:1-2 we read: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.”
The American poet Emily Dickinson wrote:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never in extremity
It asked a crumb - of me.
Here in this poem Dickinson uses the metaphor of a small bird to illustrate her point that hope stays alive within us despite all of our troubles. Like a tiny bird, hope may seem to have faded until it is small. Sometimes hope seems forgotten, yet it remains. Like a small bird that sings in the face of the strongest wind and most powerful storm, hope never asks for anything from us--it is just there to help us when we need it.
In the first stanza of this poem, Dickinson says that hope, like the bird singing a tune, doesn't necessarily speak to us in any conventional sense but is always present in us. Most important from Dickinson's point of view is that hope "springs eternal". Hope is a permanent fixture of our being, a gift from God that allows us to conquer most of what life throws at us.
The second stanza deals with the power of hope: the more the wind howls, and the storm rages, the sweeter is the bird's song. The poet has a hard time imagining a storm so strong that it could overcome the power of the bird's song. Dickinson would argue that hope, which has kept so many people from despair, can overcome any suffering.