Sunday begins the season of Advent... the anticipation of Christmas. The traditional theme for the first Sunday in Advent is Hope.
But… What is “hope”? What is it that we are hoping for?
There are a number of definitions for the word, hope:
• as a noun...
1. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
"he looked through her belongings in the hope of coming across some information"
synonyms: aspiration, desire, wish, expectation, ambition, aim, goal, plan, design; dream
- a person or thing that may help or save someone.
"their only hope is surgery"
- grounds for believing that something good may happen.
"he does see some hope for the future"
synonyms: hopefulness, optimism, expectation, expectancy
• as a verb...
1. want something to happen or be the case.
"he's hoping for an offer of compensation"
synonyms: expect, anticipate, look for, want; wish for, long for, dream of.
Another definition, from a British source, is…
- something good that you want to happen in the future, or a confident feeling about what will happen in the future.
The word hope features prominently in our day-to-day speech.
We speak positively of “hopes and dreams for the future”; our young people “hope to find a job”; we see a “glimmer of hope”, “we live in hope”, and “we never gave up hope.”
We also speak in the negative, where: “our hopes have been dashed”; and a situation “is beyond hope.”
Whether noun or verb, our day-to-day understanding of the word hope, and the main context in which we use this word is essentially that of looking forward to something, of anticipation, or expectation.
So, are we…
…hoping to get that new job?
…hoping the Stampeders will win the Grey Cup?
…hoping Santa will bring us the present we really want?
…hoping the Ti-Cats will win the Grey Cup?
…hoping for things that will
- make our lives
- more enjoyable
But… it that really what HOPE is? Is hope about US? Is it about OURSELVES?
Or is hope about those who NEED hope?
- people who are hungry, thirsty, homeless
living in fear of…
When we help give HOPE to others, we make our own lives better.
How do we do this? How do we give hope to others?
I’ve mentioned before that I often listen to CBC Radio. Earlier this week, on my way to work, I listened to an interview with a man who has spend most of his life living on the streets, occasionally in homeless shelters, often in hospitals, institutions, and even jail.
He has been diagnosed as being bi-polar, but is now managing reasonably well. He found help through a local church, and its pastor who sought out and welcomed the homeless and treated them with dignity and respect.
The church helped him to address his addictions, and to fight his demons. He know had a small apartment in which to live, inside, out of the cold, off the street.
Because of this church, and in particular its Pastor, this man now has hope in his heart; hope for a future where he can count on being treated not with scorn and ridicule, but with dignity and respect.
Where is hope to be found in Ferguson, Missouri?
Here is a situation that highlights both hopefulness and hopelessness.
During the day, there are people who are demonstrating, seeking changes to the way situations involving black people, and in particular black youth, are handled. These people are hopeful that they can bring about this change.
By night, a different crowd emerges; people who despair their lot in life, who see only hopelessness in their situation, and who seek not change, but revenge.
These people are angry, because they lack hopefulness; they believe the only way forward is to destroy what others have — even those who share their situation.
Those who protest in the daylight see hopefulness in their situation; they have hope that changes can be made. They stand in the light of hope.
Those who protest at night see only hopelessness; they are lacking in hope for the future, and seek to destroy, to tear down, and not to build up. They stand in the darkness.
Sadly, both groups are facing the same situation.
What hope is there for the families of missing and murdered aboriginal women?
What hope is there for First Nations communities that have been under a boil-water advisory for several years?
What hope is there for the homeless, and the hungry?
How many in our own society cannot find hope, but see only hopelessness?
Hope is not a commodity to be hoarded away, to have on hand in time of need. Hope is a gift we can offer to others.
Hopelessness often comes when we take stock of our own lives, our own situations, and compare them to that of others.
Often we do not truly know what situation another finds themselves in, we only see what they want us to see.
Some who appear to be well off and successful are hiding behind a façade, and are not at all content with their situation.
Some who appear to be lacking are quite content in theirs.
Quite often, when we compare our situation with that of another, we are not making a fair comparison; all too often, we see only the differences.
We need to focus on the similarities, and find ways to help each other, especially those who are in need.
Where do we find hope in a society that is fixated on finding the best “Black Friday” deals?
Where do we find hope in a society that believes it needs more stuff?
When I was twelve — I know I’ve used this story before, but please bear with me — I was at a friend’s house when his parents came back from the grocery store.
You know the giant cardboard boxes that packages of toilet paper or paper towels come in?
They carried in one of these boxes, filled with raisin bread.
My friend looked in the box and said, “Why did you buy so much raisin bread?”
“Because it was on sale,” his father replied. “Only 25 cents a loaf.”
His dad looked at me and asked if I liked raisin bread. “Yes, I do,” I replied.
He offered me a couple of loaves to take home with me. I declined, saying it would be difficult to get them home in good condition, since I had to ride my bike home.
I’ve also told this story at school, to make the point that a bargain isn’t a bargain if you don’t need what you’ve bought.
They didn’t need two dozen loaves of raisin bread. And even if there was room in the freezer for it, it surely would go on sale again before they could have eaten all that they bought that day.
It was generous of him to offer me — and two other friends who happened to also be there — a few loaves. They were very generous people.
But, if that had been their plan from the start — to purchase a large amount of bread and hand it out to others who might be in need — I might have seen that differently. But I think that handing it out was an after thought.
Perhaps we need to make sharing more of a forethought.
What if we went grocery shopping and bought more than we needed, with the intention of dropping the extra items off at the Food Bank or Soup Kitchen?
I know some people who do that.
I think that hope is to be found wherever people think of others, and offer them a hand up; a helping hand, as it were.
I think that hope comes when we start thinking in terms of our needs, and not our wants; and in terms of considering the needs of others.
Earlier this week, I saw a meme on Facebook. It read:
Starting today, I need to forget what’s gone, appreciate what still remains, and look forward to what’s coming next.
I think that…
…when we can look forward to what’s coming next — when we can all look forward to what’s coming next… when we can forget about things we believe we may have lost out on, when we can appreciate what we have, and look forward to what’s yet to come — to what will meet our needs…
…when we stop focussing on our differences, and what separates us, and instead begin to recognize and celebrate our similarities, and the things that unite us...
We will know hope.