Hope is a dangerous thing. It demands we search the dark corners of life for what appears not to be there. Hope enlists words such as yet and if and maybe and wait. It too often arrives late to the party dressed in a costume we never dreamed of. And hope stands perilously close to the grand canyon of dissatisfaction and disappointment. As the author of Proverbs tells us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Therefore, we hedge our bets; we wax realistic. We yank our heads out of the clouds and anchor our feet firmly to the ground. What we’re afraid of is not hope but losing it. Hope becomes a treasured coin we fear we’ll lose and therefore hide away from use. But life without hope is deadly. How do you find and hold onto hidden hope?
Find Hidden Hope Embodied in Awareness.
During the Christmas season we find ourselves returning to our hope chests. We rightly believe, since God embedded himself in the skin and bones of a baby for the salvation of a hopeless humanity, now is the time for hope. But Christmas becomes so beautifully and even painfully cluttered with expectations, how do you find true hope among it all?
When I’m out hunting, or observing, which is what my hunting trips often amount to, I find what I am hunting or hoping for suddenly appears. A bare branch becomes an antler; a patch of orange leaves grows into a golden bull elk; wind tossed leaves become a heard on the move. Or not. Sometimes leaves are just that—leaves.
But not always. Occasionally, delightfully, surprisingly the branch is an antler. God has wisely camouflaged his creatures enabling them to hide in plain sight. Hope too.
And without the awareness that may result in false hope, I also would be skunked. It does no good to go into the field with eyes wide shut to protect myself from disappointment. Rather defeat is then ensured.
This is how it is with hope as well. Hiding hope, or us from hope, may deny disappointment but it also leaves us hopeless. Hope and awareness are intrinsically linked. Hope calls me to be aware, watchful for any sign of it. And awareness allows me to sight it.
Is this the difference between optimism and pessimism? I think so.
How Do We See Hidden Hope?
Advent is infused with waiting (one of hope’s favorite words) and being aware of what might come. Advent reminds us of those watching and waiting before Jesus’ first arrival. Their stories can show us how to watch and hope.
Mary, like many in Israel, waited and hoped for the coming of the Messiah. When the angel told her she would be the literal deliverer of the Messiah, she said “May your word to me be fulfilled.” This could not be how she hoped the Messiah would come. But she accepted it.
Look for Hidden Hope in the Unexpected, Even Painful
What is unexpected and maybe even difficult around you? Those are the things God may have camouflaged hope in.
In 2007 The Redheaded-Wildflower’s step-mom passed away. Her dad had also passed a few years earlier. I was between pastorates and so we moved back to Denver and moved into her dad’s house to take care of it in December. Our children all gathered there for that Christmas.
It was strange, heartbreaking, all being together in Grandpa’s house again but without Grandpa. My mom had passed recently as well. It felt to me as though the last of our family was adrift in a life boat in a cold and wild sea. The memories of past (better?) Christmases haunted me. What would the future hold? It should have been a Christmas swamped with grief. But hidden in the grief was hope. A fierce snow storm smothered us and we clung to one another, played in the snow, formed new traditions, a new legacy, and new hope developed. The last generation was gone. But the next was alive and well. Today we total thirteen wild and wonderful, fragile and hopeful people.
As with Mary our hope appeared in the least expected moment.
See Hope with Eyes of Faith
Anna and Simeon had a different experience from Mary. Without angelic announcement they somehow saw their hidden hope fulfilled in the baby Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought him to the temple. What did they see? A normal baby boy by all appearances. But their eyes of faith saw what others missed. And then God confirmed their vision.
Things around us turn from everyday to sacred as well. This is the heart of the lighting of Advent Candles. The wreath is a circle to remind us of God’s never ending love and mercy for us. The evergreens symbolize the eternal life God promises us through Jesus Christ. The candles represent the light Jesus brought into the world.
Even our secular lights wreaths, candles, ornaments, and traditions we surround ourselves with are more than they appear. They too can symbolize and embody hope. The light on the tree is the twinkle in Jesus’ eye. The child’s delight opening a gift is God’s joy. The act of giving and receiving repeats the sacred movement of God giving undeserved and unexpected grace and us receiving it with delight. With awareness God can turn our traditions into hope.
Hope Is a Dangerous Thing
“Hope is a bad thing,” wrote Henry Miller. “It means that you are not what you want to be.” Miller is right. And faced with that truth we hide hope away. But this is why Jesus came. We are not who God created us to be. Hope is the road God paved to get us there.
Hope is dangerous and we try to survive without it. But life is deadly without hope. Hope and life are impossible without one another. As we approach the holiday of hope, let’s open our eyes wide. Be aware of the hope in our treasure chests. And fear not for Immanuel is with us.
We are connected by words and yet finding the correct ones to thank you and communicate my appreciation for your friendship and readership is nigh impossible. So I’ll settle for simple. May the grace, peace, love, joy, and hope of Jesus Christ fill you this Christmas and each day beyond. His blessing will be far richer than mine. Love, Eugene
For more Advent reading: