In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Andy writes a letter to Red and includes the following remark, “Remember Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” If I could respond to Andy, I would simply say, “Amen.” The reason, of course, is that hope truly is a good thing. Despite difficulties, hope is one of those things that people everywhere hold onto, even if momentarily. Hoping admits frailty and attempts to look beyond the status quo, eagerly desiring and longing for something more. It’s good, yet it can be dangerous.
Grasping For Hope
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” – Proverbs 13:12
For several hundred years, Israel did not hear a word from the LORD. The same mouth that spoke all things into existence at creation chose not to speak for a time. This time in redemptive history was cold, dark, and grimmer than the ominous silence before an impending tsunami. Israel had been exiled, and only a few returned home. Things were not the same. Would God keep His covenant? Would God deliver them from Greek rule? Roman rule? Questions abound…. It’s within this context the Christmas story arrives.
Luke writes, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Lk. 2:25, emphasis mine). Simeon kept the covenant by faith, hence Luke’s description in Luke 2:25. Here was a man who was waiting—expecting, hoping, and looking forward to Israel receiving comfort. Why was Israel in need of comfort? Grief. Pain. Frustration. Uncertainty. They lacked hope. That was status quo in Israel when the Christ was born.
Charles Wesley wrote of this in 1744 with the hymn, Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus:
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver, born a child, and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine of eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine own sufficient merit, raise us to Thy glorious throne.
Longing, expectation, and hope of the kingdom—but where and when would it come? Anointed by the Holy Spirit, Simeon was granted divine revelation: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Lk. 2:26). Simeon was promised that he would, in fact, see the Messiah. Finally! Hope had dawned and, though the sunshine seemed dim, the brightness would come in the promised Messiah.
Simeon followed the revelation and the leading of the Spirit and went to the temple where he met Joseph and Mary by divine appointment. Simeon holds the child then blesses God. In a fit of divine elation, Simeon thanks God for the fruition of the promise: He has seen God’s salvation. And that salvation will be a light to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
Simeon grasped for hope and, in God’s wise counsel, this hope was held in his very own hands. The Messiah would bring light, truth, salvation, and hope to all nations (Is. 42:6; 49:6; 60:1-3).
The Story Progresses
Fast forward to the end of Luke’s Gospel account. Jesus was betrayed, murdered, buried, and raised. Talk about a journey of hope! This promised messiah stared death in the face, brutally falling under the sword of divine wrath. I suspect if Simeon were present at the execution of Jesus, he might have asked the following questions: “Was this the same man I held in my arms? The one the Spirit promised would be Messiah? Now that he is dead, how could he possibly be the consolation of Israel?”
Those who watched Jesus being crucified could have benefited from this Psalm, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation” (Ps. 42:5).
Yet Christ was raised! Death couldn’t keep him for long; no, Jesus walked out of the tomb leaving death in the grave. “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,” says the Psalmist (Ps. 146:5). Jesus was blessed! God was his hope. Jesus saw his vindication on the other side of the cross.
Jesus then appears to a couple of his disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24). These disciples were walking along discussing among themselves the apparent failure of Jesus to bring the promised consolation to Israel. They say as much, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk. 24:21). Did you catch that? We had hoped.
Tension. Simeon was told that Jesus was the hope that was coming to the world to bring redemption. Yet it seemed as if Jesus failed. He died! Messiah’s don’t just die! Hope was already waning when Jesus was arrested, and now it has all but dwindled.
Little do the disciples know that Jesus rose from the dead, so he explained that the entire Bible is about him (Lk. 24:27). After that, they share a meal, their eyes are opened, and they know it’s him. He immediately disappears from their presence. After admitting an odd case of divine heart-burn (Lk. 24:32), they spread the news: “Hope is here! Hope has come! Our consolation is truly here!” The gospel announcement marches forward.
The consolation that Simeon and the disciples were desperate for is still the same consolation we long for. The kingdom of God was launched in the person and work of Christ. This kingdom is not yet here in its fullest expression. Christ has been enthroned and his crown rights should be acknowledged by all nations, but not all nations have been discipled. The hope that surrounds Jesus’ first coming propels the church’s mission forward, knowing that the future hope we have is guaranteed by the resurrection of Christ.
We can learn much from the first advent as we peer into the future, longing for the second. Jeremiah Burroughs comments, “Faith and hope purge and work a suitableness in the soul to the things believed and hoped for.”
The act of faith (trusting without seeing) coupled with hope (longing and expectation) shape and mold the soul in such a way as to align one’s heart with what is envisioned. In other words, whatever our hope is our lives are to be lived in such a way as to strive for it. The soul is built to desire—to desire is to hope and to hope is to desire. So what does Christian hope look like?
Christian hope is quiet and waits patiently. It cries out with the Psalmist, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry” (Ps. 40:1). Christian hope is also confident expectation. Sure, we wait patiently and quietly, but we also look forward confident in God to be faithful to his promises. To have confident expectation is to yearn for something. We “put out our necks” to see when God will come.
We live in-between.
To live in between the advents of Messiah is to look back on what God has done with excitement and look forward to what God will do with eagerness. We hope in what is to come because we see what God has already done. Living in between the advent pushes future hope deep into the soul because God has already proven himself faithful. Hope is only as good as the presupposed promise, and that promise comes from the God of all true and better promises.
Real, Robust Resurrection Hope
We can hope with full confidence because Jesus is alive. The down payment of the firstfruits of the resurrection in Christ is a done deal. Christ has died. Christ is risen. The objective reality of the empty tomb is the fuel that drives the engine of hope. Sure, we don’t see the entire picture: “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (Rom. 8:24). But we don’t have to. The future belongs to God and those to whom he chooses to give it. But that doesn’t undermine our hope. It drives it.
What Christians hold on to during Advent is not fuzzy feelings of the past. We don’t celebrate Advent because God did something really nice once before. We take time to celebrate Christ’s coming because of a real, robust resurrection hope. The tomb is empty. The gospel announcement has been shouted. Christ has come, yet he will come again. Hope is definitely a good thing. Yes, it is dangerous because we can hope in things that will disappoint. That’s reality when living in the in-between. But resurrection power has come and will come again. Is there a surer or greater hope?