My new shampoo has the tag line ‘hope + repair’. I only noticed after I got it. I bought it because it had a cool sounding botanical name and the company had reduced their plastic packaging. I certainly didn’t buy it for ‘hope’! In shampoo?!
Tis the season for ‘hope’ everywhere it seems.
‘Hope you have a nice Christmas’; ‘Hope Santa brings you what you want’; ‘Hope we get to meet up’; ‘Hope this vaccine has no side effects and gets things back to normal’; ‘Hope you have a nice day!’. It’s a never ending list of hopes but is this really hope? Or is it optimism? Is there a difference between hope and optimism?
Optimism is that classic glass half full outlook on life. Things might be bad but look on the bright side, it will get better; it will work out alright in the end. I am not against optimism at all, in fact I’m probably an advocate, but I think when Christian hope just looks like polished optimism we’re selling our whole story short. If we’re only about wishing for a brighter day, then Christianity can rightly be accused of being a ‘crutch’ for naïve people to get through life on. Optimism is not the hope of Christmas.
Christian hope goes deeper, much deeper, and this is beautifully portrayed in the Christmas story. The hope of this story is not a pat on the back style ‘it’ll be alright’, it’s about God who saw the mess of the world and came and stayed in it. Actually, a God who descended from heaven’s glories to come and share in the sufferings of what we know life on earth can be like. This is not optimism. It’s realism. God, manifest in Jesus, didn’t cheer from the side-lines to get us to a better place; he came and lived with us. In the Bible John puts it like this:
‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’
I don’t know if you’ve ever begun to lose hope; if the weight of life and its messes have driven you to real despair. It can be an incredibly lonely and difficult place. You grow weary of everything life throws at you. In those times, the last thing you want to hear is someone telling you to ‘keep your chin up.’ Often, the best thing in those situations is somebody coming and sitting beside you, listening, fully understanding what you’re going though, and carrying your load for a while. This is what Jesus does.
He doesn’t stop there though.
He takes all your load, every last piece of luggage that you’ve been carrying round, and says ‘I’ll deal with that’.
And even though you might hold on to some bits of the luggage, he understands that it’s difficult to let go, and he says ‘When you’re ready to let go, I’ve dealt with that too’. This is not optimism; this is hope in realism; hope with certainty; hope.
The French hymn writer who wrote ‘O Holy night’ beautifully captures Jesus’ impact on the human predicament, declaring it a ‘thrill of hope’. A hope so real and concrete that ‘a weary world rejoices’. This is not just looking on the bright side; it’s not even a glass half full, or a full glass… It’s being able to stare into the reality of the bleakest year and still be thrilled about it, because the hope is real!
Catch our Christmas services as we celebrate this thrill of hope in a weary world; they will be live at 5 over the next two Sundays (13th and 20th) and Christmas Eve. Or listen again to any of our content on our YouTube channel, via our website or your preferred podcast provider.
God bless you and have a very Merry Christmas x
Judith Gibson, Pastoral Assistant