Last night we had the first advent conversation for the church plant I'm part of. We talked about the first advent topic, which is the hope of things to come. Although I would typically think of the beginning of the advent season as hope and expectation for the coming of the Messiah, the passages that we were looking at were all about hope for the 2nd coming of the Messiah.
So the question that I posed to the group is what is the nature of the hope that we have to offer ourselves and to the world?
In my daily life, brushing shoulders with all kinds of people in all kinds of places, there's a marked absence of hope. There's a feeling that the world is not as it should be, and the imperfections of the world around us seem to take center stage in conversation. Whether it's the economy (Michigan's is still really, really awful), the reality of an possibility of war, or the complete breakdown of our social relationships, people are living without hope.
In Isaiah 2, there's a really hopeful passage of Scripture where Isaiah talks about the end of time, when weapons will be given up for tools of peace. Isaiah was speaking into a culture of instability and fear that is similar to where we are today, though the invasion of military forces was imminent for Judah. But the hope that he mentioned was all in the future - the very distant future. After reading, my question remained - what is the substance of hope that God offers today? Is it just the hope of a future world where everything will be put right?
Because I'm not sure that hope actually really resonates with the people in my world. The response I feel is the response of "so what? How does that even remotely relate to my life right now and all of my current problems? How does that put bread on the table or get me out of an abusive situation?"
As we talked about this as a community, I think we uncovered that there's a duality of hope that is offered. Yes, there is hope for the future making-right-of-all things. But there is also a way in which the body of Christ, the church, is to be an agent of hope and change in the world right now. How do I know that the future restoration of all things is coming? Because I am being restored - not just by personal healing, but by being a part of a transforming and transformative community.
If I can say that I am being restored, recreated in God's image, being made a better person who makes better choices by the power of the Spirit in my life, then it's easier to hope for the ultimate restoration of all things. If I'm part of a community that is transforming the culture around it, not in a damaging or disrespectful way, but in a way that reaches out and meets actual needs, perhaps it is easier to believe in the possibility of recreation.