The church father Tertullian (fl. AD 200) once remarked, “Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” The reason hope requires patience is because we only hope for things we do not have. Paul made this point in Romans 5: “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” The need for patience does not lessen the intractable nature of hope, a bedrock virtue of our faith, but it does create a longing in our hearts.
What does Christmas have to do with hope? If hope is forward looking, then why do we talk about hope when we celebrate a past event? We hope in this season because the mission of the Son was only partially fulfilled in the first coming. Christmas reminds us of the lengths to which God will go in order to redeem fallen humanity. Our sin may separate us from God as far as the east is from the west, but the incarnation is God’s way of bridging the gap and in turn casting our sins as far as east is from west. At Christmas God fulfilled the first part of his mission—“you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
God’s fulfillment of his promises grounds our hope that part two of his plan will come true. One day Jesus, the suffering servant in his first advent, will manifest himself as King in his second advent. Darkness will turn to light, disease will be no more, and death itself will die. Regardless of the pain and tragedy this year has brought or the trials next year brings, Christmas hope can fill our hearts as we look deep into the future.
So light the lamp and keep it burning as we watch, wait, pray, and yearn. Christmas is a great time to reignite our hope in our Savior King!
By Dr. Brian Arnold