As I write this—sitting in a bookstore, drinking coffee—there is a girl talking on her cell phone to her sister. She is buzzing around looking for a book the sister had recommended, the title of which she’s forgotten, but she can’t stop talking about how excited she is to get home for Christmas to see her sister and family. She talks about finals and her look definitely betrays that she is living in Abilene for college. I’m sure she has many friends and an enjoyable enough life here. But this is not home, and her life for now is very much shaped by the hope of home.
One of the special things about Advent and Christmas is that our lives are especially shaped by hope. We are hopeful about seeing family and friends, about time to rest and slow down, about giving and receiving gifts—there’s a sense of anticipation and even camaraderie. The vast majority of our culture is still in on this, and what we’re in on is something hopeful. And this hope shapes our lives. Despite the jokes and complaints we make about Christmas being hectic and frustrating, we really do tend to—as a culture, and even other cultures around the world—we tend to rise to the occasion of togetherness and anticipation. We rise to a lifestyle—albeit temporarily—of hope.
It is a sad state of American Christianity today that our thoughts of the “end times” are characterized by pessimism and fear. For the apostle Paul and the early church, “end times” was a subject of triumph. Paul doesn’t write, “Things are so bad, Jesus must be coming soon to take us away from all this.” No, Paul’s understanding was that, having won such a magnificent victory over sin and death, Jesus’ kingdom reality must only be a heartbeat away. And what’s more, that heartbeat is yours and mine. Just as we pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, so we are to be living from that kingdom and building it until Christ comes in final victory to lift the veil between heaven and earth and to establish his kingdom forever. This is the Blessed Hope of Advent.