Many of our churches are focussing their themes and thoughts leading up to Christmas around the advent wreath which they have sitting in a prominent place in the front of the church. On the last Sunday in November (the first Sunday in Advent) they lit the first candle of the advent wreath which carries the theme of ‘hope.’
This Advent ‘hope’ refers us to the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah which would be fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.
In St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, ‘Hope’ is linked with ‘faith’ and ‘love’ to form the three defining characteristics that make us fully human.
In some respects, faith is the foundational characteristic that is nurtured in the awareness of what God has done for us. It’s the historical reality. Whereas, love is the present reality – it’s what we experience now. Hope is the future dimension – hope keeps us looking ahead to what tomorrow holds.
The more we love, the more we hope and the more secure our faith
But how do we begin to talk about hope to those who had held onto the hope that their sons and husbands and fathers and brothers would be rescued from the Pike River mine in the same way the Chilean miners were, only to have those hopes destroyed with the grim news that no-one had survived the explosions?
How do we help people find hope when the future looks pretty dark from where they are sitting?
It’s not easy, and the simplistic clichés that somehow everything will be alright – that it’s all part of God’s plan – often have the opposite effect and destroy any sense of hope.
Someone once described hope as ‘a sloping plain between the mountain peaks!’
The reality of our human experience is that we have the God-given gift to be able to ‘reset the compass’ when hopes are dashed and refocus our eyes away from the mountain peak and concentrate on just the next hill.
This is the amazing ability that enables us to claw our way out of the darkness and to become better, rather than bitter. But it is a ‘sloping plain’ and sometimes we find ourselves heading downhill before the path once again begins to rise.
The Bible is full of stories of restored hope when all seems dark and at the very centre of it is the fulfilment of Israel’s hope in the person of Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel makes this very clear in chapter 12 when he quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah in explaining the ministry of Jesus:
‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.’
This hope doesn’t take away our pain when tragedy such as Pike River impacts us. But it does give us something – and someone – to hold on to as we stumble in the darkness.
To reflect again on the three characteristics of faith, hope and love: The more we have loved, the more painful the apparent destruction of hope and the more important the foundation of faith.
Advent is a season of hope – because it leads us into the promise of Christmas.
Who would have thought that, after all the prophecies of a Messiah throughout the Old Testament days, and then the 400 years of apparent silence after the book of Malachi, that we would come to the beginning of the New Testament story when an angel appeared to teenage girl named Mary and began the journey to the first Christmas – the foundation of our hope.
This is the hope that our churches on the Coast and particularly our clergy have been able to take, so publicly, into a broken and devastated community.
Our love and blessings to you all, and our sincere thanks for all your support of the witness – especially to all who have contributed toward it during the year and our special love and prayers to all impacted by the disaster at the Pike River mine.
‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you might overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
+Richard and Hilary Ellena