Week 1: Hope
The manger dares us to believe
the best is yet to be. And it
could all begin today.
At Advent, we are invited to immerse ourselves in hope. Biblical hope is not wishful thinking. It is the unshakable confidence that God can be trusted. It is the belief that God is always at work for our good (Rom. 8: 24–25, 28). It is the assurance that God’s promises are true even while we wait for their fulfillment. Because our hope is certain, we wait patiently, not fretfully, trusting that God is already at work to provide the light we seek, the help we need, and the deliverance we long for.
Psalm 80: 1–7, 17–19
Isaiah 2: 1–5
Romans 13: 11–14
Mark 13: 24–37
Questions for Reflection
1. Advent is the season to be looking—looking for light, for rescue, for every promised good thing. Each of these Scripture passages reflects some aspect of this eager and hopeful anticipation. The psalmist implored God, “Let your face shine, that we may be saved” (Ps. 80: 3 NRSV). The prophet Isaiah charged God’s people to “walk in the light of the LORD!” (Isa. 2: 5 NRSV). The apostle Paul roused his readers with the command, “Wake from sleep . . . and put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13: 11–12 NRSV). And Jesus urged his followers to “keep alert . . . keep awake” (Mark 13: 33, 35 NRSV).
• Which of these four directives from Scripture resonates most with you right now? Why?
• The emphases on light and alertness indirectly acknowledge other, less-welcome realities, such as darkness, danger, lethargy, and exhaustion. As you anticipate the weeks leading up to Christmas, what unwelcome realities could you be facing?
• The answer to darkness is light, to danger is rescue, to lethargy is vitality, to exhaustion is rest. Which of these do you think you will need most in the days and weeks ahead?
2. The prophet Isaiah described an expansive vision of what will happen when the hope of the coming Messiah is realized: nations “will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isa. 2: 4). When the Messiah reigns, warriors become farm workers, soldiers grow vegetables, and troopers till the soil.
• In what ways does the holiday season (or the stress of everyday life) bring out the fight in you—your warrior/ soldier/ trooper instincts? What are your weapons of choice, your equivalent of swords and spears?
• If the Messiah is to reign in your life this Advent and Christmas, in what situations or relationships might you need to lay down your arms? What are your equivalents of plowshares and pruning hooks? Or how might you exchange your weapons for the “armor of light” (Rom. 13: 12)?
3. At Advent hope fills us with anticipation—the King is coming and we want everything in our lives to be ready to receive him! Max puts it this way: “If you knew Jesus was coming tomorrow, what would you do today? Then do it! Live in such a way that you would not have to change your plans”.
• Allow yourself to imagine that Jesus will make a literal visit to your home and that you have four weeks to get ready. If you want to be at your best and to fully enjoy the visit, how would you prepare?
I would prepare physically by . . .
I would prepare relationally by . . .
I would prepare emotionally by . . .
I would prepare financially by . . .
I would prepare spiritually by . . .
• In what ways, if any, would you need to reorder your life or schedule to make this preparation? What would move up on your priority list, and what would move down?
• The culture in Jesus’ day placed a very high value on hospitality. Among other things, welcoming an honored guest might include greeting the person with a kiss, pouring oil on the head, and providing water to wash the feet (Luke 7: 44–46). Together these gestures created a warm welcome so guests felt not only refreshed and respected but also genuinely wanted and appreciated. What comes to mind when you consider welcoming Jesus in a way that would make him feel not just respected or worshiped but genuinely wanted and appreciated? In what ways, if any, would it change your preparations?
4. “The manger . . . dares us to believe the best is yet to be. And it could all begin today”. If Advent and Christmas were everything you could hope for this year, what words or phrases would you use to describe them?
Come, Lord Jesus. My hope is in you.
Consider using one or more of the following options to help you practice and experience hope this week.
• Train your heart to seek the light of Christ by noticing all the lights around you throughout the day—everything from sunrise to holiday lights to the little light at the back of the refrigerator. Stuck in rush-hour traffic? Let the brake lights on the car in front of you prompt you to use your Advent Prayer, Come, Lord Jesus. My hope is in you. If you find it helpful, keep a daily light list or use your phone to take pictures of all the lights that prompt you to invite the light and hope of Christ into each moment of your day.
• Set aside time for preparation. Briefly review your responses to question 3, and follow through on one or more of the preparations you identified. For example, I would prepare physically by getting eight hours of sleep each night. Then work through your schedule for the week( s) ahead, making any necessary changes so you can prepare for, receive, and truly enjoy the coming of Christ.
• Make or buy a simple Advent wreath to mark the progression of Advent from week to week. Light the appropriate candle( s) each Sunday. You may also choose to relight them when you pray each day or when you have your evening meals as a reminder that the light of Christ is always with you. If this hasn’t been a tradition in your home, now is a good time to begin an annual Advent tradition with your family.
O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wond’ring love.
O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God, the King, and peace to all on earth.
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heav’n.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born to us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Lyrics: Phillips Brooks, 1867
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15: 13
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2 Corinthians 9: 15
Hoping does not mean doing nothing. . . . It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying. And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let God do it his way and in his time.
Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father’s will Jesus became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross.
J. I. Packer, Knowing God
To prepare our hearts for Christmas, we must cultivate the spirit of expectancy.
Handel H. Brown, Keeping the Spirit of Christmas
Hope is patience with the lamp lit.