"Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Luke 21:28
Rather odd words for the start of our Christian new year. Disaster, the second coming of Christ, signs and portents in the sky, doomsday is coming. Hardly the way to get things going unless you want to start things off with a bang. People are fainting with fear and foreboding, according to one translation, which does not sound like a comforting thought. And this is how we start looking for a baby in a manger who has been given as a present to us as hope for the future of all the world? Yikes! I’d rather go watch the Eskimos!
This doomsday scenario is a reminder to us all that terrible times do happen to everyone, and that finding hope in the middle of such dreadful situations is hard. And what is hope anyway?
I think that in some people’s minds hope stands for happy optimistic positive energy, and that if only we think the right thoughts and eat the right foods and live the right lifestyle, we will have a wonderful life untouched by trauma of any kind. They can be very annoying when you complain of your latest crisis, because they will lecture you that you need positive thoughts, and that if you would change your thinking, all your problems will be solved. There are others who think that hope is a fool’s game, and that it means hedonistically outrageous primitive emotions, and that there is no such thing as hope for life is a terrible game of winner takes it all, and the looser is an insignificant individual to be stepped on because they did not have the strength of character to risk everything to come out on top. There is only success, the one thing to which all may be risked and gambled. No cost is too great, no sacrifice too small to pay for success. In money we trust, and Heaven help the fool that disbelieves that. It is a dog eat dog world, survival of the fittest and hope is something that is a waste of time and money.
Others think that hope is having oodles of possessions for eternity. Christmas is a glimpse of hope for them when they will finally have enough stuff or enough money or enough house or enough car or whatever it is that they think will mean that they have enough for security. According to a Reader’s Digest article, 70% of lottery winners lose or spend all their money within 5 years, and some even end up bankrupt afterwards. One lady from England who won a large amount at the age of 16 blew her money on plastic surgery and drugs, became suicidal and ended up living with her parents again working as a maid. As the Beatles said long ago, “Can’t buy me love.” To which Jesus might say, can’t buy me security, safety and happiness either.
So many different schemes for hope seem to be, well, fluffy and hopeless. We look at life and ask, “is that all there is?” We might as well do the ‘eat drink and be merry for tomorrow will be a disaster, and medicate ourselves into numbness. Many do just that. As Jesus said, “Be on guard so that your spirits do not get bloated with indulgence and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.”
And we think of hope primarily as an emotion that will come and give us an adrenalin boost, which will help us maintain the lie that everything is going to be fine. Sometimes the reality is that life is really tough, and it’s hard to stay happy and positive. But hope is not a feeling. I think it’s a commitment to action. Big ideas. Big goals, big dreams. It can be taught and it can be contagious.
Winston Churchill made a speech to the British people on the brink of war that inspired them with contagious hope. He finished it by saying, “If at last the story is to end, it were better it should end, not through surrender, but only when we are rolling senseless on the ground.”
He didn’t talk of victory in that speech, but he did remind them of their story, the importance of their way of life, and the need to protect it at all cost.
We Christians have a long story too. I remember reading somewhere that the first refugee camp was started by Augustine of Hippo. Rome had been sacked three times by Visigoths who took slaves and gold from the city and destroyed what they wanted. The church of St. Peter and Paul became a sanctuary for many people, and was respected by the invaders. The Romans turned away from Christianity, accusing the Christians of corrupting the Empire with their faith, and called on fellow citizens to repent and follow the old Gods, Jupiter, Mars, Juno and Minerva. Christians left Rome in droves and fled to Hippo in Africa where Augustine took them in and began writing his massive book, the City of God, as a way of finding hope for Christian people.
Even in our times, we can find signs of hope when people turn misfortunes into the courage to make a difference for many. I was struck with the interview this week on CBC with the Kurdi family, some of whom will be coming to Canada soon. They are doing their best to rebuild after their losses. Abdullah, the father who lost his family, talked about building a school and hospital in their memory. We, by allowing them in, are choosing to give them something to hope for, a safer life.
In some ways Hope is like feeding 250 people spaghetti like we did on Friday. It’s messy, and it takes time, energy and co-operation. It can be taught, and it can be nourishing. It focuses on the people it is serving. It needs many people with many different gifts working as they can however they can. It remembers to feed its own people and flourishes with encouragement. In the end, Hope is a commitment to a story that will make the world a better place. Hope sees that Jesus may be just around the corner in ways we don’t expect.
Hope is the action of “standing up and raising our heads” as Jesus taught, and as Paul and Augustine did. Hope is providing love to all humans as Paul hoped we would, practising radical hospitality. And Hope is an action, maybe it can be “Hear and Obey the Priority of Equality.”