“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
― Langston Hughes
On Sunday, December 1st, Christian churches around the world celebrated the first Sunday of Advent this year by lighting a candle that symbolizes the light that the prophecies of a Savior brought to the world. In my church, the first Sunday centers around the theme of Hope.
The candle may be lit by a child, a member of the congregation, a church leader, or a Pastor, but everyone is watching as the wick catches the flame, and the candle begins to glow on its own.
Although, something powerfully interesting is happening with that candle that I don’t believe is intentional: The candle flickers in a well-lit sanctuary, and outside of being something nice to look at, it serves no practical purpose. That flame is not keeping anyone warm, it is not aiding in lighting up the room; its simply there.
It seems terribly pessimistic to view it that way, but hear me out.
When a child dreams of their future, and they dream of being a baseball or soccer player, a famous actor, or the president, they are usually quickly discouraged by comments like, “well that would be a one in a million chance”.
As adults, we might dream of following passions that are new to us, or that are revived from our past, but we generally don’t MAKE time to pursue those things because other things are more realistic to focus on.
For many of us, Hope is something that we have learned is something we can have in times of privilege; when all of our responsibilities are complete, and we have no worries to think of. However, it is in times of sorrow and abandonment when Hope is needed the most.
And let’s not kid ourselves…without hope, we’ll never get to the satisfied ideal that we save our hope & dreams for; we’ll simply remain where we are, and seek nothing more.
So while that candle is lit on the first Sunday of advent, it may cast no measurable heat or light in that well-lit Sanctuary, but it still brings us comfort in knowing that it represents the Hope that we need to have, even when having hope seems pointless.
“Hope alone is to be called ‘realistic’ because it alone takes seriously the possibilities with which all reality is fraught. It does not take things as they happen to stand or to lie, but as progressing, moving things with possibilities of change”– Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope.
For the first Sunday of Advent, the Old Testament reading was from Isaiah 2:1-5 in the Lectionary, and it reads:
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3 Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
5 O house of Jacob,New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
As the prophets of God told of the hope that was coming, they did not have visible hope to share. Instead, they had hope through their faith in what was coming.
Their hope, before Christ came into the world, was like lighting a candle in a well-lit sanctuary; meaningful for them, and those that believed the same prophecy, but to the outside world, their hope seemed meaningless.
The prophets of God longed for a time when the answer to darkness was light, and where the answer to war was peace, and when the dwelling place of God on earth became a refuge for the whole world.
But they wrote this when there was still darkness, war, and national division. They wrote this when they didn’t really “have time” for hope and dreams. They wrote this because, without hope and dreams, they could envision no progression for their starving kids, no justice for the oppressed, and no end to the wars that tore them apart.
They needed to believe that God would liberate them from all of their sufferings, and they envisioned that when this would happen, other people groups would be able to benefit from the goodness of God as well.
The world can throw many problems at us, those we love, and the communities in which we are a part of. Society encourages us to silence our struggles by saying “I’m fine” when we are truly not okay.
Some Christians, mistakenly, have suggested to many of us that if we are depressed, if we are struggling financially, if something bad happened to us, or if we have anxiety, that we must not be seeking God.
But Society, and those Christians, are so wrong.
Human life is full of experiences that are both positive and negative, and when we don’t learn to process through these experiences and emotions, or when we constantly see ourselves as a failure, we negatively impact our present and future, as well as those around us.
THAT is living without Hope.
Letting our past determine our present and future is living within a reality that will never progress past our fears and insecurities. We are not promised financial or social success in this life, but if we change our mindset from one of hopelessness to hope, our quality of life will improve because we are no longer focused on that which we previously saw as hopeless.
But the world longs for something more than improved individualism; for some seek growth as individuals without regard to what that may mean for others.
The world longs for a Hope that would shine light on the darkness within all of us, within our systems, and within our misplaced goals. We all long for a hope that benefits us individually, but in order for that Hope to be for the world, it has to be all-encompassing and pervasive.
The Joy and happiness of a Savior coming to earth is only fully appreciated when you realize that the world is desperate for help.
Christians hope that the faith that we have comes to fruition through the Savior making all things right at the end of times, but we also have Hope that the Redemption of God is at work at all times, and in all people.
Without Hope, we let darkness overtake our vision. With Hope, we allow light to overtake the dark.