Keeping Hope Alive

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Hope is central to the Christmas story. Revd Simon Topping reflects on how we can keep hope alive in these difficult times.

Some may have lost hope in persuading world leaders to take the necessary steps to limit global warming in the light of the outcomes of the COP26 climate change conference. While some countries promised greater commitment to tackling climate change, we are still on course for a global temperature rise that exceeds the safe limit of 1.5C change, even if all the commitments are kept.

 Some might look to the enormous extremes of inequality in our world and feel a sense of hopelessness – how can we end the crushing poverty that we find both in our local neighbourhoods and across the world? Other might despair at the corrupt practices of a few politicians which can so easily lead to disillusionment with all politicians.

For many Christians in Europe these are difficult times as we struggle to identify a hopeful future in the context of diminishing resources and capacity within our churches – in a society that often does not seem to recognise the relevance of Christian faith.

So how do we keep hope alive? For Christians our hope centres on our remembrance of the actions of God in the past and our faith in the purposes of God for the future.

As we look back to the story of the people of God in the Bible we can see a pattern emerging – it is precisely when all human hope is lost that God’s love and power breaks in.

God hears the cry of the people in Israel in Egypt, suffering from slavery and exploitation, and acts in their favour, bringing release and new possibilities when there appeared to be no hope for the future. In the same way God acts in favour of suffering and despairing humanity through the birth of Jesus, bringing light into the darkness of Roman occupation in first century Palestine. When human hope is at an end, divine hope breaks in.

The prophets also speak of God’s plans for the future. They speak of a time when sin and death are past, when people will live in harmony in God’s kingdom of peace and justice, and when the earth will be restored and renewed through the power of God. Many of these prophets shared this vision of a hope-filled future precisely at the point when there appeared to be no hope for their people. Jeremiah buys a plot of land near Jerusalem just before Jerusalem is overrun by the Babylonians. The 20th century prophet Martin Luther King declared: “If I knew the world was going to end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today.”

Our hope comes from our knowledge of how God has acted in the past to bring hope to the hopeless and from the promise of the prophets that, in the end, God’s purposes will be realised. And through his life, teaching, death and resurrection Jesus anticipates on earth the fulfilment of those final purposes of God.

Christian hope does not rely exclusively on a human solution to the crises, the injustice and the suffering we face. Humanity’s arrogance in thinking that we can control all outcomes has led to many of the crises we face, especially our damaging relationship with the natural world around us.

But neither does Christian hope rely exclusively on a divine solution to the problems we face. We cannot simply wash our hands of the world’s difficulties and wait for God to intervene. Rather, God works through humanity, and through all of creation, to achieve the purposes that God desires.

In Jesus we see the human and the divine at work in a way that brings hope to the hopeless. In Jesus we see the way in which human life, when filled with God’s presence and God’s love, can transform the most hopeless of situations and make real the promises of the prophets that God’s kingdom of joy, justice and peace will come.

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of hope.