Have you ever made a purchase which failed to live up to expectations? You know, the one that breaks on first use. Or is too flimsy for the job. Or is an assemble-it-yourself nightmare, missing essential pieces (I’m pretty sure I didn’t lose them in the packaging I threw away!). Or the small shelving unit whose back is held in place by, are you ready for this – 80 tiny screws! (note to self . . .) Or the shirt that begins to fall apart after one trip through the laundry. Or that new birthday cake recipe you try, scrupulously following directions, but which is a failure on all levels, and requires an emergency trek to the bakery for a dismal facsimile (alas!). One of the few things I’ve retained from my high school days is a Latin term in Economics – caveat emptor (buyer beware). Mr. Biggs cautioned us to be wary of advertising promises, and warned that manufacturers were guilty of planned obsolescence, a fancy term for deliberately short product lifespan (have you ever had an appliance service tech laugh at your request for a toaster repair, and then have him rudely suggest you throw the now-defunct apparatus in the trash and purchase a new one? Life is tough for the naïve!) So, as we bumble our way through life, we develop a teensy bit of skepticism, maybe an iota of cynicism as well, eventually lowering our expectations and presupposing that if something sounds too good to be true, it most certainly must be so!
For many of us, I think hope is like that. We ‘hope’ for things weakly. Or maybe we only hope for weak things. In any case, our hoping doesn’t really launch. Rather, it limps. It may be that we are just hedging our bets, or out of an abundance of caution, steering clear of ‘high apple pie in the sky hopes’ to avoid the letdown when our hopes are dashed. So, we hope it doesn’t rain (despite the meteorology report). We hope we get an ‘A’ on our report card (studious or not). We hope we win the lottery (whether or not we play). We hope the plumber shows up (as the basement floods). We hope the baby sleeps through the night. Here’s the tragedy, though. These so-called ‘hopes’ are all but unrelated to what Scripture talks about concerning the topic of hope. For the Old Testament Hebrews, the multiple words employed to express hope reveal an elemental power, a poignancy, an expansiveness. Like hope that blossoms at the onset of a pregnancy with a multitude of scenarios: joys and sorrows, laughter and pain, celebration and mourning, abundance and want, fulfillment and loss; in short, what life is all about. God’s out-of-the-blue, divine appointment of Joseph and Mary to this holy and gargantuan task of birthing and nurturing and raising the Deliverer of all mankind (including themselves), for all time, came with a Divine supply of an athletic, muscular, gritty, gift. The gift? Hope – as God shaped it. A gift which we, today, find ourselves desperately needing to discover within us, this gift having been deposited by the ferocious, unquenchable, indomitable power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. That done, when we hope, we will do so hearing God’s boisterous cheering from the stands, the celebration of the Holy Spirit at our engagement, the pleasure of Jesus at our obedience. And this hope builds muscle, y’all! PD