Reflecting on the The Hope Candle – First Week of Advent 2012

Last Sunday, our church lit the Candle of Hope on our Advent wreath. It didn’t help that for the first couple days of the week, I thought we had lit the Peace Candle.

Different churches and traditions have different names for the candles. Advent guides often tell us that you can name the candles what you like. In fact, at that week’s staff meeting we discussed the possibility of renaming the first week to “The Candle of Contentment” to offer some context to our “Advent Conspiracy” series. That week’s theme was “Spend Less” and we thought renaming the candle to contentment might seem like a good idea. We decided against that because it lacked the power of the more traditional meanings and went with Peace, err … I mean Hope.

I finally did it get right Tuesday afternoon and I started asking myself what everyone is supposed to ask themselves throughout the week, “What does it mean to live in a world where the candle of Hope is lit?” And similar to last year’s initial thought, I began answering this question in the negative, “What hope?? This world is pretty screwed up for a lot of people. Everyday we hear  more and more bad news.

This week, Egypt’s national situation continued to bring the world greater concern and reminding everyone of the complications and entanglements of new power.
This week Kate Middleton was taken to the hospital for severe morning sickness which led to  two radio DJ’s prank-calling the hospital and getting private information from the nurse on duty. Overcome with distraught, the nurse, a mother of two teenage-children took her own life.
Last week ESPN’s SportsCenter told us the story of Kansas City Linebacker Jevon Belcher killing his girlfriend and driving to the Chiefs facility and turning the gun on himself in front of his head coach and team general manager. His girlfriend was the mother of their three month old daughter and within an hour, he orphaned her over a feud that couldn’t possibly have justified it.

These are just the national and global stories – what about the stories our own lives intersect with? Each day I receive numerous prayer requests reminding us to intercede for those going through treatment, awaiting test results, for those who lost a loved one – each day one way or another – we are reminded of that the world is filled with pain and death. And before we sink into despair, we remember that there is hope.

On my way home, my mind recalled some of the better stories I’ve heard throughout the year like a recent story from International Justice Mission. It was about the rescue of a few young women who were being sex trafficked out of a bar in the Philippines. I imagined what it was like to be them. I imagined what they must be thinking, feeling and saying in the after-care facility. We are often told that even in after-care, the young women can experience even greater fear as they recall the threats of their abusers and oppressors. I wondered how long it would take them to realize that they are in a safer situation. If they realized their prayers had actually been answered. I imagined in the post-trauma that there must have eventually be a moment when they recalled they had hoped to escape their imprisonment and realizing now they have been freed. Though much must be done for them to reclaim the potential goodness of their future like reuniting with their families and/or opportunities for education, a life with opportunity, family, community and meaning. I remembered … sharing her liberation story at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit and hoped these girls could experience something similar – may the Lord be with them. I imagine these young ladies understand the idea of hope like few can.

I was humbled by this and of course it’s impossible to really know what’s going on but it felt like the right thing to consider on the way home. And so, what does it mean to hope?

It seems the question should remind you of hurt. It feels the answer should cost you something. It seems hope often finds its worth in times of pain and times of risk. This is when its power emerges. During the times I have hoped for something better in a particular circumstance, I remember hope being the first step in capturing imagination and next, steering volition that eventually turned to action.

Who can hope?

Can God hope?

Though certain teachings of our theology tells us that God always knew what would happen and what He would do, I can’t help but think He took delight in hoping, imagining, deciding, acting, later sharing His hope with us. Certainly it would hurt Him. Certainly it would cost Him. The thought is almost ridiculous – imagine a God who allows Himself to be hurt and vulnerable – a God who at some point choses to lose, to experience loss, to experience death. And even though all this happens just before the moment of victory, resurrection and capturing the glory of eternal life, the God that Christianity professes is a one that knows pain … and hope and that inspires.

And so we find ourselves rediscovering one of its other incredible aspects – hope is contagious. It’s why we name candles after it.

May the hope of freedom, justice and God’s unconditional love stir our imaginations and move through our souls this Advent. May it lead to life-giving action and may its contagious goodness inspire others to hope for the things that offer meaning, redemption and strength.

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