He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.-Isaiah 2:4
A week or so ago, I went in search of late night fast food. The undergrad in front of me was palpably excited about purchasing a McRib, declaring his intentions to all around him long before he got to the front. Unfortunately for him, he was quite drunk and we were at Whataburger, not McDonald’s.
As the commendably patient cashier tried to explain to him why he wouldn’t be getting a McRib at Whataburger, his look of pure befuddlement spoke to me because I recognize it. I’ve worn it before, at least spiritually, and I’m afraid the church in America has joined me quite frequently.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, a time the church has traditionally reserved for reflection, preparation, and anticipation of Christmas, mirroring the long wait for Messiah’s arrival. Many attribute certain ideas to each of the four Sundays, and today is set aside for Hope.
I’m not sure how to keep hope during centuries of oppression, but then again I’m not always sure how to keep hope in 2016. It feels like every new poll confirms we’ve set worse and worse record lows for trust in politicians, the media, and even each other. It’s a good and appropriate time to preach hope in Christ and Christ alone, as many on both sides of the political aisle did surrounding the election. But what if when we look to Jesus, we’re looking for things we won’t find in Him?
In Christ we find hope, but not necessarily the kind of hope we recognize at first. Hope takes our American expectations of glory, prestige, and respectability and flips them on their heads. Hope was born in a manger, not oppulance, fleeing as a refugee instead of enjoying what He deserved. Hope walked dusty roads with the sinful and dangerous rather than marbled halls of power with the important and respectable. Hope preached justice for the oppressed instead of singing the praises of their oppressors, whether they came from within the faith community or not. And in the end, the very embodiment of Hope was tortured to death, rose again, and invites us to do the same. The more time we spend learning from this Jesus, the slaughtered-yet-risen Lamb, the more our hope will look like the coming of the Kingdom He preached…and the more we’ll enact it as we wait for fulfillment.
Maybe we’ve decided that hoping in Christ means hoping for progressive social policies. Or the cutting of entitlements. Or globalism. Or the renewal of America as a global superpower. Or any of the other various things we think will restore our world. Don’t get me wrong, we all have our individual hopes and opinions on what will make life better (I was certainly hoping for a Bama win in the Iron Bowl yesterday), but hitching any of that to the expectation of Messiah will leave us looking as foolish as an inebriated McRib fan in a Whataburger.