Rob Bell defines despair as “believing that tomorrow will be just like today,” which reminds me of the lyrics from the final verse of one of my favorite hymns…
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow:
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Great is Thy Faithfulness
As I write this, we’re entering the first week of Advent, which to many Christians is simply synonymous with Christmas, but traditionally they are not the same. On the liturgical calendar, Christmas is a twelve-day celebration beginning on Christmas Day and ending on January 5. And then January 6 is Epiphany, which commemorates the visit of the Magi with Jesus and the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.
Advent leads up to Christmas. Advent anticipates the celebration of Jesus’ first coming. In other words, for many, many centuries, Christians have been repeatedly re-living the process of waiting hopefully for the coming of the Jewish Messiah to save the world from sin.
Even though we believe Christ has come, accomplished his work, and ascended to heaven to be enthroned as King of God’s forever kingdom, we still go through the motions of awaiting his first arrival, year after year. Why? Because…
Celebrating Advent – going through the motions of awaiting the first coming of the Jewish Messiah to save the world from sin – is a matter of practicing hopefulness.
And when it comes to hopefulness, we need all the practice we can get.
Enduring suffering, whether as individuals, family units, or collectively as a culture, can be discouraging when there is seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s one of the reasons I believe post-apocalyptic, dystopian stories (like The Walking Dead) catch on. They give artistic expression to our inner desire that, after the world falls completely apart, somebody can piece life back together again.
And as the legalistic but wise theologian Marilla Cuthbert said, “To despair is to turn your back on God.” Marilla may not have been the most tactful or gentle of matriarchs, but she ultimately made a good point.
The presence and reality of God necessitate the replacement of despair with hopefulness – the belief that “tomorrow” (whether literally tomorrow or a random day several generations into the future) will be different. That suffering has an end. That the world will be set right.
Or as the Apostle Paul wrote (as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson)…
Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete.
2 Corinthians 1:20-22, The Message
Photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash.
- Rohr O.F.M., Richard (Author)