What do you hope for this Christmas? Last week I shared that I was hoping for a Hallmark Christmas. A hope that is unlikely to happen according to my specifications. So instead, I’m choosing to hope for a joy-filled Christmas.
Does this mean that hope is a choice? Do you and I choose whether to have hope or not?
“In psychology, hope is a cognitive practice that involves the intentional act of setting goals and working toward them with purpose,” writes Maya Shrikant. Her article featured the study of hope at Arizona State University’s Hope Center.
In their research, the Hope Center staff discovered that hopeful students succeed more often in school and are more likely to participate in community activities. But there are substantive differences between hope, wishing, and optimism.
According to Crystal Bryce, Associate Director of Research at the Hope Center, “Hopeful people are able to set goals, identify ways to reach their goals and feel as though they can do the work to achieve those goals.” Their research supports that hope is a choice.
John Parsi, Executive Director of the Hope Center, says, “Hope is an active process.” The Hope Center works with children, youth, college students, and communities to help them become hopeful and achieve their dreams.
But the group recognizes that hope is contextual. For example, a lot of Christians associate hope with faith. And the writer of Hebrews tells us that to have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for and to be certain of the things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). Interpreting these words without additional context can lead us to conclude that hope is having faith in God to deliver on our hope. Rather than setting goals and doing those things that help us achieve that which we hope for.
To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.
In scripture, faith and hope often intersect during times of peril. And there’s plenty of peril in scripture. Take, for instance, the exile of the Judeans by the Babylonians. With their homes and cities sacked, hope that depended on their power alone was elusive. They saw no way to make plans to return as long as their captors held power over them.
Ancient prophecy addressed their anxiety by describing a belief that their fate depended more on God than their own efforts or captors’ will. The 80th Psalm is a prayer in response to this belief:
Bring us back, O God! Show us your mercy, and we will be saved! How much longer, Lord God Almighty, will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You have given us sorrow to eat, a large cup of tears to drink (Psalm 80:3-5).
Ben Yosua Davis writes in a reflection that “Hope is sometimes just a choice: a choice we make with clear eyes, one that we make even when the outcome is not assured…I don’t have to feel hopeful to choose hope. Rather, it’s a decision I make daily in cooperation with God to live out of hope, to practice hope, and to trust that it will be enough.”
In his reflection, Davis shares his thoughts on a lesser-known hymn, originally written in Spanish and titled “Cuando El Pobre,” translated as “When the Poor Ones.” Written by Jose Oliva, the lyrics celebrate the willingness of persons lacking enough for themselves to choose to share the little they have with others. Oliva writes:
When the poor ones, who have nothing, still are giving; when the thirsty pass the cup, water to share; when the wounded offer others, strength, and healing; we see God, here by our side, walking our way.
Osheta Moore reflects, “Advent gives space for our most raw emotions and guttural cries for God.” Moore reminds us that the story told by Advent begins amid conflict when the people ask, “Where is God?”
Exiled by their captors, it was clear to them that the world was broken and in need of salvation and restoration. However, the people longed for deliverance for generations before the Messiah was born.
The residents of Flint are familiar with longing and waiting. The people of Ukraine are familiar with death and destruction delivered by ruthless adversaries. The families mourning the loss of children gunned down with weapons manufactured for that purpose know tears. “Our stories personally and collectively mirror the story of Israel,” writes Moore.
I’ll never forget a line from a prayer I said after learning that my first grandson would not live to see his first birthday as a result of a hereditary disease. As I prayed with my daughter, her husband, and his other grandparents, I began my prayer with, “only God bears the burden of foresight.”
Humans cannot predict the future. But we can have hope in the future and faith that God is with us. But our hope comes out of our belief that God lived among humanity. A belief that the birth of Jesus was both confirmation of God with us and our hope for salvation and restoration.
God said, through the Prophet Isaiah, “the Lord will give you a sign: a pregnant young woman will have a son and will name him Immanuel.” God is with us regardless of our situation or circumstances. God offers salvation and restoration irrespective of our past.
This is the hope we celebrate at Christmas. This is the joy-filled Christmas that I hope for. And for me, my hope is supported by plans to gather with others for worship. Both on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day.
Hope is a choice to set goals supported by actions informed by a faith that assures us that God is with us through it all.
I invite you to join us for worship. And if you have a prayer request you can submit your request online on our website home page. In addition, prayer request forms are located around the church and during water and food giveaways.
You can join us each Sunday in person or online by clicking the button on our website’s homepage – Click here to watch. This button takes you to our YouTube channel. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to connect@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.
Content for this series is based in part on:
The Wonder of Christmas. An Advent worship series written and produced by © Skit Guys, 2022. Used with Permission.
Maya Shrikant. “The science of hope: More than wishful thinking.” © Arizona State University, June 14, 2021. Retrieved from: link
Crystal Raypole. Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD. “Meet Anticipatory Anxiety, The Reason You Worry About Things That Haven’t Happened Yet.” © Helpline.com, March 17, 2020. Retrieved from: link
Ben Yosua Davis. “Practicing Hope.” The Upper Room Disciplines 2022: A Book of Daily Devotions. Nashville: The Upper Room, 2021.
Osheta Moore. “Living the Tension.” The Upper Room Disciplines 2022: A Book of Daily Devotions. Nashville: The Upper Room, 2021.