Thursday, December 13, 2007

OUT OF DARKNESS...HOPE

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned." Isaiah 9:2

Where does hope come from? How does it happen? Why does it come onto the scene and into our lives? What is the nature of hope? Can we--should we--form our lives around something like hope? I'm asking and exploring such questions during these weeks before Christmas.

A few things I've so far noted:

1. Biblical hope is different than Disney hope. It is based on the promise of the Word of God, not wishes upon stars and "hope-so" day dreams.

2. Hope puts the past into perspective and buoys us amid current grief and loss.

3. Biblical hope orients us forwardly and giving purpose in our present challenges and opportunities.

4. Biblical hope is more an action than a feeling. It is a grace that is expressed in confidence in God and in concrete actions of faith and love.

5. One of the primary expressions of hope for the future is present neighborliness. Being a committed neighbor today anticipates the future described in Biblical prophesies.

CAN WE LIVE WITHOUT HOPE? Perhaps hope is something we cannot long live without. The Apostle Paul describes our situation before Jesus came in Ephesians 2:2: "you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world." That's a pretty dim existence, isn't it? The Good News is that God didn't leave us that way. Further, it is God's will that no one should be excluded, cut off, left out, or without hope.

A DARK EXISTENCE But living without hope must be a dark existence. Isaiah 9 describes people "living in darkness." They were in "gloom" and "distress." The gentiles of Galilee were "living in the land of the shadow of death." Can you use your imagination to put yourself into their shoes for a moment? That's difficult for me to do, because I can never remember living without some form of hope. Even my most discouraging moments and darkest days have been buoyed by reassuring voices and followed by a forward-looking recovery.

ROTTEN OUTCOMES OF HOPELESSNESS It is hard for me to personally imagine hopelessness, but I can certainly see it lived out. Its rotten evidence and outcomes are everywhere. Without a sense of a hopeful future, children tune out and then drop out of school. Without a sense of a meaningful tomorrow, people act irresponsibly and indulge in harmful, self-defeating behavior. Without a sense of investment in results that they can fairly enjoy, people lie, deceive, cheat, and steal their way along in life. Without a sense of a stake in the community, people abandon it in pursuit of private facsimiles, erecting ever higher psychological, social and physical barriers intended to make them feel secure and "at home."

UNWITTINGLY LIVING WIHOUT HOPE It occurs to me that most people who are living without hope are doing so unwittingly. They are in the dark without realizing it. Maybe they've never seen spiritual light. Maybe they've grown up in family and social environments of desperation, competition, fear, intimidation, bullying, violence, and threats of being abandoned or cut off. This is reality for more people than we think. Some people have just become accustomed to living in such darkness. Without real hope, they cope with life with the resources they've been given, that seem to work for them, and that will not build them up only to crush them further.

CHOOSING FACSIMILES Others have rejected faith, hope, and love somewhere along the way in preference for "sin for a season." Like the Prodigal, they trade eternal grace for things that satisfy for a moment and promise to fulfill their dreams. But life and love evade their indulging grasp. They gather around them symbols of success, but live without hope.

IS THIS REALLY LIVING? So, folks do live without hope, but it is not something that can really be described as "living." It may be more like existing or surviving. That's not what God designed or intended. "I have come that you might have life and have it to the full," Jesus said, declaring divine intention for every human being.

HOPE REACHING US, US REACHING OUT "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." The Gospel writers point this prophesy's fulfillment to a Bethlehem stable and to the choice of Jesus to teach and heal in Galilee. God's intention to bring light to all the world through Jesus has reached all the way to you and me today. We now know what it means to have hope. Now, about those we see or know who are living without it: what might we be called to do for them or share with them?

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