0106. Recognizing Hope

In our previous thought, we discussed how the usage of the word sacrifice in today’s culture does not meet the true biblical definition. The same could be argued for another word: hope. Perhaps this year was a crappy year, and we hope next year will be a better one. Or say we hope that our favorite team wins the championship. Or we hope the stock market goes up so we have some more economic stability. Or perhaps we hope to win the lottery jackpot and retire in luxury. Nothing is wrong with any of these thoughts, but they seem to be more like wishes than hope.

If we examine the previous examples, we notice something interesting: that the outcome benefits the individual. In other words, the things we hope for are self-centered. This is more of a by-product of a God-omitted culture, as our culture has a very me first attitude. Why shouldn’t we be more focused on our own well-being? Well, there are a couple of reasons that this is not in the best interests of either the individual or humankind. When there is a war going on that we do not have an active interest in, do we sit down and work for a peaceful resolution that benefits everyone, or do we hope for one side to suffer catastrophic losses? When there is an ideological divide in a country, do we put aside our differences and work along side each other, or do we hope for our side to run roughshod over the other so they get humiliated? In both examples, there is a choice between peace and harmony, or beneficial gains. And unfortunately, our culture today tends to choose self-centered gains. Sure, we complain that our country is divisive, and our policies are biased towards one side or another. However, that is a result of individuals, including ourselves, choosing to take advantage of a situation for gain and influence, rather than seeking a balance and keeping peace in their house.

The other problem with self-centered hope is the consequence when that hope ultimately fails. What happens when your team loses the championship? What happens when the promotion you were hoping for suddenly becomes a layoff in an economic downturn? When self-centered hope fails, you will find yourself all alone to deal with the aftermath. Depression has been on the rise for many years, and one of the culprits has been the isolation of the individual through self-centeredness. We have been trained for most of our lives to be stubbornly independent. If anything bad happens, we are told to just shake it off and keep moving forward. However, in previous generations, there was a strong family support mechanism such that if a family member went through a crisis, the rest of the family was there for support, and no individual went through the process of failure alone. This is no longer the case anymore. With the rise of technology and the demise of the traditional family unit, more and more individuals choose to place their home on isolated islands of their own making. During good times, this is perfectly adequate. However, if disaster strikes and hope fails, where does the individual turn to for assurance, a bureaucratic government hotline?

In the times of the New Testament Bible, the situation was also very similar. Rome was in power and ruled the world with an iron fist. Their politicians set policies that benefitted themselves the most, and let the rest fend for themselves. Some Jews wanted the prophesied Messiah, unknown to the world at the time, to take up the sword and lead a revolt. There really was not much unification except through force, so if people did not look out for themselves and their families, no one else would either. This is when hope of a different sort came into the world. It arrived with the birth of a divine child born in Bethlehem approximately 2000 years ago. He would grow up to teach us something completely illogical to what we learned and our minds want to hear. He even gave his own life without a second thought so we might understand his example. What if our hopes were not based on our individual needs and wants, but on the well-being of those around us? What if everyone hoped for the best for our friends, family, colleagues and even our (gasp) enemies? What would that world look like? Would we see conflicts over territory and resources? Would we see political and cultural divisiveness? Or would we see people striving to work together in peace, faith and love, so everyone could experience joy in their lives? There is a classic song that starts, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day is a recognition of a new kind of hope. It is an eternal hope that will always be there for us and never fail us. It is not based on self-centeredness or individual gain, but on peace and love. And it is available to anyone who wishes to acknowledge the call in their hearts, and to become a Christian. As Romans 15:13 (CSB) says: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Ponder that hope this week. Merry Christmas to you and God bless!

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