Thank God for Advent! We need hope. We face serious trouble because of the climate crisis. Hope enables us to do all we can to avoid the catastrophe. What hope means has been well expressed by Vaclav Havel, the playwright and former president of the Czech Republic. He said this:
Hope is not becoming involved in something because it has a chance of success. Rather hope is working for something because it makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
It is hope above all that gives us the strength to live and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem hopeless.
When Jesus appeared on the scene he gave the harassed Jews hope. He declared that the Kingdom of God is at hand. And he made hope visible by healing the sick and going to the cross. In other words, basic to hope is action. History confirms this. Time and time again the followers of Jesus follow his example by doing what we can do to put right what we deplore.
Hope sets the agenda. Hope expresses itself in action. Thus Advent prepares the way for Christmas when we give thanks for the incredible action of God in coming to save us.
Hope issuing in action has been well expressed by the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann. He says:
If we had before our eyes only what we see we should have the accept things as they are.
That we do not do so. That there is no pleasant harmony between us and reality is due to our unquenchable hope … (thus action): Our hope makes Christians the source of new impulses for justice, freedom and humanity.
History provides many instances of hope and the action it produces. I think of Nelson Mandela. He was able to give South Africa hope. When Mandela was imprisoned and began his 27 years incarceration he was a very angry young man. He had every right to be angry. It was just after the dreadful Sharpville massacre (1960).
Remarkably, when Mandela was released he was a different person. He said he wanted bygones to be bygones. He had hope for South Africa and he did his level best to translate it into action. I have no doubt that his Christian faith explains the change. He and other prisoners on Ruben Island had as their chaplain the Revd. Peter Storey, a young Methodist minister.
Free from bitterness Mandela was willing to sit down and talk with his oppressors. What was even more important was the hope he gave South Africa. It was an infectious hope. I saw it myself in our theological college in South Africa. The hope of a democratic country with equal opportunities for blacks galvanized the students throughout the whole of South Africa. This hope spread to the trade unions. The white people found it incredible that South Africa had changed into a democracy without the feared blood-bath.
Small wonder St. Paul says we are saved by hope (Romans 8). Small wonder we welcome Advent and the hope it gives us.