One of my favorite films is The Shawshank Redemption. Although innocent of the murder charges against him, Andy Dufresne endures almost two decades of inhumanity in one of the country's most brutal prisons. Incredibly, he seems never to despair, encouraging the other inmates always to hold on to hope. At the end of the story we learn why: During those two decades Andy has been chipping away at a tunnel which ultimately becomes his passage to freedom.
"Hope is a good thing," he writes to his friend Red after his escape, "maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."
As we approach Advent 2016, we too may feel like prisoners in a brutal and inhumane world. On many levels
It is hope that keeps us going when we think we can't possibly do so.
—personal, national, or global—it may seem that there's not much to celebrate this year. The world is a mess, and just the thought of the whole "Christmas thing" is exhausting. Just more of the same, right?
And yet, once again churches will set up an Advent wreath, light candles on the four consecutive Sundays before Christmas, and declare with each lighting that there is cause for hope. Why does this tradition continue after so many centuries? Because hope is the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. Indeed, the Bible teaches that hope is one of three glorious things that will always survive dark times (I Corinthians 13:13). It is hope that keeps us going when we think we can't possibly do so.
Advent always starts with hope. On the first Sunday of Advent we light the HOPE candle and celebrate the hope we have in Jesus. Because Abraham put his hope in God, God promised to bless all people through Abraham. Throughout the Old Testament there runs a redemptive thread: a Savior would be born, a king in the line of King David, who would rule the world wisely and bless all the nations. It is his birth, his first Advent ("coming"), that we celebrate as we anticipate and hope for his second Advent.
It is the reality of the first Advent that ensures us of the second. It is not something we merely “wish” for. Wishing and hoping are not the same thing. Hope is grounded in unshakeable confidence in the outcome. We can wish upon a star or the candles on a birthday cake, but wishes can disappoint. Hope rooted in God and his promises can never disappoint (Romans 5:5). What God has said and what God has already done validate our hope in him.
We know the outcome, the end of the story. And we affirm with hope, "Even so, come Lord Jesus!"
Norma Farthing is a former teacher and administrator who's married to John, a former professor and pastor. They enjoy retirement in Northwest Arkansas, especially being Nana and Poppy to Landon and Layton, reading good books, watching old movies, and cheering for the Duke Blue Devils.