Saturday, December 8, 2007

HOPE IS MORE THAN A FEELING
Advent 2007 / Daily Doses of Hope - #7

BETTER THAN THE EMOTION. Hope is usually recognized by a certain way we feel. But hope runs deeper and carries us further than any passing positive emotion about our prospects for the future that we may feel or express. Feeling hopeful is good; knowing hope as a grace is better.

CAN'T WAIT FOR CHRISTMAS. Anticipation of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day has always made me feel hopeful. As a child, I could hardly wait them. My feelings were echoed in a holiday tune: “We’ve been good, but we can’t last; hurry, Christmas, hurry fast!” I felt hopeful because of what I was all but certain would happen, even though I wasn’t sure just what specifically would transpire. There would be gifts! I would be wonderfully surprised. Expectations would be surpassed. Food, family, fun, presents, decorations, music and more conspired each year to create a powerful feeling I still associate with Christmas. Before the holiday would be over, I’d find myself saying: “I can’t wait until next Christmas.”

ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. One of many “wonders” in my association with Christmas and hope is the wonder that ordinary people and ordinary places and ordinary things could be so transformed—even if only momentarily—in such extraordinary ways. Christmas seemed to put a shine on everything and make everyone considerably greater. One had the feeling that anything was possible at Christmas, which, I believe it is!

WHEN THE EMOTION OF HOPES SUBSIDES. Of course, the feeling of hope would dissipate about the time the holiday school break ended. By mid-January Christmas would be a distant memory. Even if the positive memories were powerful enough to keep Christmas alive as hope, the feeling of hope would be all but gone. I wouldn’t be daydreaming about Christmas. I wouldn’t measure time as only so many days until Christmas. I’m sure there were other, lesser hopes that drew me forward daily and weekly. But as a feeling, Christmas hope subsided.

AS A GRACE, HOPE ABIDES. I have since learned something of the difference between the feeling of hope and the grace of hope. As a feeling, hope comes and goes, ebbs and flows. As a grace, hope abides. As a feeling, hope can overwhelm you with a sense of fullness one day, but leave you feeling forlorn and empty the next. As a grace, hope roots us to deeper promises and a more purposeful sense of being, worth and meaning. Thank God we are more than the stuff we can or cannot purchase! Thank God there is deeper meaning than the occasions we and others can orchestrate! Thank God there is a hope that holds us when our emotions would mislead us!

CONNECT, DISCONNECT. Please note: feelings and outward expressions that we usually associate with hope may or may not be connected to the grace of hope. Some people have what we call a “naturally sunny disposition” that is typically associated with hope. But a bubbly disposition may have little to do with the grace of hope. Some folks, desperate for peace and love, project the cheeriest of perspectives. Other people may have a naturally dourer disposition. We may wonder if they ever really laugh or “let go”; we may wonder if they have hope. In reality, they may have a greater grasp on hope than we ever imagined. Authentic hope runs deeper than our feelings of hope.

THE GIFTS POINT TO A GRACE. Christmas offers us the possibility and gift of authentic hope. Christmas gift-giving points beyond the "joy of giving" to the power of authentic hope: expectation of a delivering Messiah who comes to redeem every person, reconcile people to each other, and restore the world in justice and peace. This is ever the hope we proclaim. Once we receive it by faith, we live in light of its compelling vision toward its complete fulfillment. Once we have received this gift, this grace, no passing emotion can ever completely either overwhelm or drain us. Hope abides.

A LIFE LIVED IN HOPE. It is difficult to tell children that “Christmas is not just about gifts.” But the manner of our holiday celebration connected to a lived witness during and after this holiday can communicate a greater, deeper grace that the expectations of this holiday can only hope to symbolize and make more accessible.

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Go to Daily Doses of Hope to access journaling, spiritual exercises and sacred lyrics that accompany this reflection. There is a Daily Dose of Hope for each day of Advent 2007.

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