Have you noticed that Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier every year? The stores seem to be putting up their seasonal items before Halloween is over. The local radio stations are playing non-stop Christmas songs starting November 1st. Finally, there is a trend that people are putting up their Christmas trees earlier and earlier. Why?
In the past few months, I have continually been challenged by the younger generation to explain why they should read the scriptures. I think this is a fascinating challenge. For some there is a response of it tells us what to do or how to live. I have always tried to steer clear of the manual perspective of the Bible. I think at the heart of the question is practicality. What does the Bible do for me? At the same time it is a deep yearning to understand.
I have recently been reading the Letter to the Romans by Paul and I think it sheds some light on both ponderings I have had with Christmas and the scriptures. In Chapter 15:4 we find Paul talking about the scriptures. Specifically, Paul is talking about what has been traditionally known as the Old Testament. Paul says, "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope." There it is! The great connection, did you miss it? Hope. The scriptures teach us something. The scriptures do not teach us how old the earth is, how many sins we have, and the scriptures do not tell us what exactly to do today. No, instead, the scriptures teach us through the story endurance and encourage us so we might have hope.
Hope is a valuable commodity these days. Not too long ago, I was in a youth lock-in, and through a series of discussion, it was revealed the low levels of hope the upcoming generation has in their future. They see their government in chaos, student loan debt, living with their parents longer, deep divides in the government, climate change, etc was stressing them out. They wondered what kind of a future they were going to have. This was shocking to me! I grew up in a world with Marty McFly where there were flying cars, crazy cool technology, and more. When I went to Disney World, I was inspired to dream of a better tomorrow. Yet, when this generation looks forward they do not see a dream but a nightmare.
More still, I continually talk to people I know and we see a rise in stress, anxiety and depression in general. We are working more and longer, earning less, weighing more, sleeping less, and getting more sick. We are in a culture of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness. We are society hungry for hope.
So it makes sense that we are putting up Christmas trees earlier and having the holy jolly music play sooner. Christmas is about hope fulfilled. In the birth of Jesus we celebrate the promises of God coming to fruition. The spark of hope for justice, peace, and abundance of life are set a blaze with the birth of our savior. So it makes sense that people want to be reminded of hope, sing songs of joy, cheer, and charity. It seems we are hungry for hope.
So we turn to Paul's words. Where we hear the story of those who with much adversity seek to live their lives in a broken world endure with hope. Hope that God will act. Hope that God is present. Hope that God is with us. These stories teach us and encourage us to have hope when we have no hope ourselves. The story of Jesus reminds us that God is acting, present, and with us. The church season we are in is Advent. Advent is all about preparing ourselves for Christ's return, when hope is made tangible yet again. We are preparing for when all things are made new and justice, peace, and abundent life come to completion with Christ's return. This season is about hope. That no matter how the day seems to get darker earlier, we have hope that the dawn is coming. That the day is coming when the days will get longer and brighter.
So if you are feeling hopeless, if you are feeling down, stressed, or worse. I encourage you to read the scriptures possibly with fresh eyes. Seeking the stories and episodes in the Bible that teach and encourage hope. Let these stories become the practical way of teaching yourself and others how to hope again.
I pray that as you go through this season you may find hope in the world around you being lit up around you. I pray that you may find hope when you feel you have none in the stories of the saints who have come before us in the Bible.