Today, Sunday, December 2, 2012, we celebrated the first day of Advent by lighting the candle of hope at church. True to form, my devotional for today was also about hope. It was the story of Elizabeth and Zacharia and the difficulties and frustrations they experienced trying to get pregnant. But the story goes that through it all they remained hopeful and faithful and God eventually rewarded them. Elizabeth bore a child and his name was John the Baptist.
Yesterday, Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, shot his girlfriend and then drove to his team’s training facility, where he thanked his coach and the team’s general manager and then shot himself in the head. It was later determined that he had shot and killed his girlfriend just an hour prior.
The story of Elizabeth and Zacharia as an illustration of hope and faith makes me a bit uncomfortable. Things worked out ok for Elizabeth and Zacharia. But that is not always the case. I know plenty of people who have prayed earnestly and persistently for years and years but their prayers have gone unanswered. Some times things work out ok. But some times they don’t. It is when they don’t that we really need hope.
For me, hope seems to come from two different sources. The first is my own past experience. I have hope now because I have experienced God’s hand at work many times in the past. I have both hope and faith that things will eventually work out, because it has been my experience that they generally do.
My other source of hope, even when things do not work out ok, is that I believe I know the end of the story. I believe that in the end, God wins. I believe that in the end, I’m going to be ok even if things and circumstances around me are not. I believe that in in the end, this has all been worth it and will make sense. It is my belief that I know the end of the story that allows me to remain hopeful even when some chapters of my story really suck. My faith tells me that God is in control. With God in control, even my tragedy has a context, and that gives me hope.
But I know that there are many Javon Belcher’s in the world. There are many that have not experienced God’s hand at work in the past and for whom things have not worked out ok. Their prayers have gone unanswered. They are without hope. They have reached then end of their rope. The story of Javon Belcher tells us that that is a dangerous place to be.
I guess the take home message for me, in this season of Advent, is how easy it is for some of us to have hope, how difficult for others, but how vitally important for all of us. And how necessary it is for those of us who have it, to spread it to those who don’t.
As for me, I can give people hope by telling of my experience — that of God and his faithfulness. But also, I can give people hope by sharing with them my understanding of the end of the story — that despite life’s ups and downs, some of which are tragic, the end of the story has been written and it is good.
For unto us, a child is born…