This is the season of Advent. Advent means coming or visit and, although not a command or law handed down by God, both Christmas and Advent can and should play an important role in our lives. Any tradition that helps us to focus/refocus on God and His plan has incredible value to the Christ follower and collective of Christ followers. I would never suggest that those who do not celebrate Christmas, Advent, or Lent and Easter, are not Christians but I would contend that they are missing out on an opportunity to force their thought process to focus on why we call ourselves Christians. I know Jesus’ birthday was not on December 25th and that Good Friday may have some timeline issues but I am convinced that God is not concerned about our choice of celebration dates/days but rather pleased that through them He can further His relationship with us.
The traditional themes of Advent may create confusion.
The four Sundays before Christmas have each been assigned a theme to help us prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus and to look forward to His return. The problem is language is limited, especially English. The word hope, one of the themes of Advent has become part of our vernacular. When any word is used on a regular basis it usually evolves, taking on either a completely different meaning or it is limited to one meaning accepted by the culture in which it is used rather than the multiple meanings that it originally had. I am not sure that the word hope ever was used in everyday language the way the Bible uses it. Even if in the past it was used the same way the Bible uses it, those days are long gone. The theme of hope, if we apply the most common meanings of the word, is not one that instills any form of certainty which leaves many wondering why we would talk about hope during Advent at all.
The biblical meaning of hope is very different than the way we use the word.
Hope outside of the Bible usually refers to a dream or desire for something better to happen. It is not a word used in reference to a certainty but rather it is used to describe wishful thinking about a positive outcome. If we use that definition I would say as followers of Christ we live in a dream world that, if we are lucky, will turn out the way the Bible says it will. Hope in the Bible is not about dreams or desires. It doesn’t rest on our ability to imagine a better ending or create positive thoughts as we wish for more than we have. Biblical hope is a longing or looking forward to what we know will happen because of what we know already happened. We look forward to the return of Jesus and eternity with Him because we look back at His birth, death, and resurrection and recognize that for all who put their trust in Him, the future will be much more than the life we live now. We are confident, not wishing or dreaming but instead looking forward with anticipation to the end that really is the beginning of what we hope for, Jesus’ return!
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)