By Stephen Rankin
Light the first Advent candle as you read Lamentations 3:21-25
The Christian faith is full of paradox. We gain life by losing it. We live by dying. We receive through giving. This passage from Lamentations shows the same paradox. The writer’s circumstances are extremely difficult. Jerusalem lies in ruins. There is no earthly reason to feel hope. Yet a confidence stirs in his heart. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” Not even in extreme difficulty. God is the kind of God in whom we can place all our hope.
The theme of hope in Advent presents us with this paradox. The time of Christ’s coming is here, but not yet. The Lord is coming, and with us now, but even so not (yet) in his full and final glory.
Sometimes this paradox makes us feel uncomfortable. Have you ever noticed how impatient we are to start singing Christmas carols before Christmas? Most of us know only one or two Advent hymns and we want to start singing carols as soon as December arrives. By the time Christmas comes, we’re finished singing carols. We’ve moved on.
The practice of lighting the Advent candles, and observing the themes that go with them, encourages us to slow down. To notice the paradox of the “here” and the “not yet.” Hope presents it to us. We don’t hope for what has already happened. Christ has come (has been born), and we rejoice. But Advent reminds us that he is coming. Yes, he has come. Yes, he is coming and, when he comes, he will come in the fullness of his glory. For this coming we hope with eagerness and deep yearning. When we feel the pain of the world’s brokenness, we remember the Lord’s promise: “See, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:7)
Our hope stands firm, therefore, not in worldly “happy endings.” It stands in the One who is Faithful and True, whose steadfast love is always present. And though cliches quickly wear thin, one fits perfectly here. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. We hope expectantly, confidently, because the God of the ages is faithful. The writer of Lamentations knew this truth. And so, we following his lead, can say, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end…great is your faithfulness.”
May we allow the paradox of the Advent season to stir up hope in us. He has come. May we wait expectantly for his coming. And in the waiting may we learn more about what hope really is.
Prayer: O God of the ages, we wait with hopeful expectation for the coming of your Son. We are grateful for your precious promise that your mercies are new every day. We give you thanks for the gift of salvation, and the promise of full salvation in Christ at his coming, in final victory. Give us grace to walk hopefully all the days of our lives, through Christ our Lord. Amen.