Christmas Hope

“Adoration of the Shepherds
G. vanHonthorst, 1622

Professor Lewis Smedes said “Keep hope alive and hope will keep you alive.” Those powerful words have stuck with me over the years. For most of us, it is natural to hope for our own well-being, to hope for a good future. It’s a way of affirming the life God gave us and generating excitement about future possibilities.

It’s natural and healthy to hope for ourselves, but it is narrow-minded and self-destructive to hope only for ourselves. Biblical hope, the hope that accompanies the celebration of Advent and the birth of the Prince of Peace, “has a wide-angle lens.” That’s how Neal Plantinga describes it and I have learned much from his insights.

Biblical hope takes in whole nations and peoples. It brings into focus the entire created order. In Plantinga’s words, “this webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets called shalom. We call it ‘peace,’ but it means far more than just peace of mind or cease-fire between enemies . . . In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, all under the arch of God’s love. Shalom, in other words, is the way things are supposed to be.”

For years, my colleagues and I on the staff of the American Studies Program (a public policy work-study program in Washington, D.C.) taught our students that injustice and oppression in our world need to be addressed by Christians who respond by saying “It doesn’t have to be like this!” We encouraged our students not to become cynical or hard-hearted, but to become agents of hope.

In the middle of the world’s brokenness and pain, we need to center our hope on Jesus Christ, the Lord of the cosmos. There are no other gods, no other foundations, upon which to base our hope. That’s the great joy of Christmas. God intervened in history and gave us his son — and this son is the promised Prince of Peace.

Jesus taught us how to be people of hope, how to creatively live according to his commandments, and how we will one day see him return in glory. Our biblical hope looks forward to a whole “new heaven and new earth” in which pain, mourning and death will no longer be present. This is the “big picture” seen through Advent’s wide-angled lens. Let’s celebrate!

So What?
  • Cornelius Plantinga Jr.’s book, Engaging God’s World, is a treasure and I would encourage you to get a copy. I read and re-read it regularly, especially when I feel overwhelmed by the challenges I face both in Russia and here in the States.
  • Have a blessed Advent season and work on expanding your sense of hope so that it becomes a “wide-angle lens.”