The Advent of Hope

The Advent of Hope

By Liesel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Victor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor, is doubtless one of the most inspiring thinkers of the  20th century.  The core of his insight into the human situation came in the extreme destress of the Nazi death camps.  Surrounded by illness and despair, Frankl began to notice that the prisoners who held onto a picture of what they would do once released from the camp, were much more likely to survive.

Frankl himself wrote a book manuscript in the camps, which later became his famous, Man’s Search for Meaning.  But the Nazis destroyed that ready-for-publication manuscript as they transferred Frankl to Auschwitz.  Frankl rewrote his book from memory and on scraps of paper.  In Frankl’s imagination he would rehearse lectures, which he would deliver once the war was over and liberators threw open the camp gates.  Frankl felt that working on his book, even in his imagination, was what kept his body from collapsing under the rigors of camp life.

I’ve never endured the kind of stress that Frankl struggled under in the death camps.  However, even ordinary stresses bring out the power of hope.  As part of the testing that led to my ordination as a minister, I had to take a 5-hour biblical interpretation and sermon writing exam.  It was the longest test I’d ever taken.   Several of us taking the test allowed the Biblical interpretation portion to consume too much of our time.  I remember my feeling of terror when, four hours in, the test proctor announced that one hour remained.  At that point, I had written nothing.  One of my classmates walked to the front of the room with several sheets of notes, slammed the papers down, said, “I’ll never be able to do this,” and walked out.  This outburst taught me more than any other aspect of the examination.  My fellow student lost hope in his abilities and decided not to utilize the final hour to focus the best efforts on his exam.

The Power of Hope

What we think the future holds exerts enormous influence on how we manage to live in the present.  This principle leads to a second insight about our sense of what is going to happen.  If I’m certain that something will happen, there’s a sense in my life right now that that prediction has already happened.  We see this in operation in many places.  When stock traders anticipate future economic conditions, they begin trading stocks at prices, which take into account events that are predicted but not yet realized.  Promising students begin to receive special respect and support in anticipation of their future success.

It Starts with Hope

Since its earliest days, Christians have considered the beginning of their Church year—the closest thing we have to a New Year—as the first Sunday in Advent, hardly an auspicious time to mark the beginning of things.  The Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of Adam and Eve; Muslims see their calendar starting fresh with the commemoration of Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina.   The only thing that I can think of that happens on that first day of the liturgical year that feels like the launch of a new year is that the Sunday readings from the Bible, which are organized on a three-year cycle, switch from one lettered year to the next.

Of course, the theme of Advent and especially that first Sunday, weeks away from Christmas, is hope.  Christians look forward to the commemoration of the birth of Jesus.  They also look forward to the future triumph of God in all things.

The Future is Present

The minute we start expecting something to happen—especially when it is a wonderful thing—there is some element of that happening that begins to fill the present.  It makes a difference how we look at life.  It lifts our mood.  It energizes our work.

So, as Advent 2017 starts there is nothing to remember or celebrate.  What we do have is a future.  It’s not a future that is an ending.  It’s neither dark nor depressing.  Rather it’s a future full of truth, goodness, and beauty.  The future is, as Jesus taught, a new order.  It’s the Kingdom of God.  And confident that that day will surely come around, we can also be buoyed by the thought that goodness, truth, and beauty are mysteriously with us now


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