New Year, Same Hope

The coming year promises to be one of widespread uncertainty. In human terms, this can lead to optimism at the new possibilities ahead or pessimism because of the challenges they present. While the world as a whole confronts uncertainty, many people face personal uncertainties – whether connected with family or friends, health or wealth. For Christians, uncertainty is not eliminated by the resurrection of Jesus, but it is transformed by it. The apostle Paul says in Romans,

‘I consider that the sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.’
Romans 8:19

Like a seed going down into the dark earth, buried from the light, the Christian hope of resurrection keeps Christian hearts fixed on God even in turbulent times.

Hope means that the Christian life is always leaning toward the future. The Christian has a hope which is not their own, written into their hearts. That is why James says the Christian needs to listen carefully to the ‘engrafted word, which is able to save your souls’ (James 1:21).  When trees are grafted, the gardener cuts deep into the heart-wood of the stock, causing substantial damage and distress. But into this wedge, the gardener places a living branch, bringing about a much greater fruitfulness and hardiness that the first tree alone did not possess. The graft is then sealed together to prevent infection, and the two trees now live as one. In the same way, hope has been grafted into the new life of the Christian.

The uncertainty of this life is often deeply wounding. Amid the joys and wonder of this world, there is much that is deeply awful and upsetting. As I write, the drought in southern Africa gets steadily worse. In Malawi alone, 6.5 million people are facing food scarcity, some going for days without a meal. Closer to home, we’ve been wounded by the failings of those in positions of authority and trust.  Many of us have faced personal difficulties that can lead us to lose hope. But the deepest wounds of all are those that we know on the inside. The wounds we discover when we realise we’re not the good and loving people we thought we were. Then uncertainty reaches deep into the very core of our being.

The wonder of the Christian hope is that it does not depend on the Christian. Like the grafted tree, it comes from the outside. For the Christian, salvation is something that Jesus secured two thousand years ago. The Christian hope does not depend on the goodness of the Christian – otherwise they would be hopeful on the good days, hopeless the next. Unfortunately, people in the West have largely identified spiritual truths like hope, joy and peace only with personal feelings, which will fluctuate with times and seasons of life. But the Biblical hope is much more than a feeling. The apostle Peter says Christians are ‘given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’ (1 Peter 1:3) Hope comes from being given new life by God through Jesus’ death and resurrection. A living hope can face today’s uncertainties within the much larger story of God bringing life out of death.

So how can we live with this Christian hope in 2017? Perhaps the contrast between the uncertainty of our times and the certainty of God’s faithfulness in Jesus, will help make us more keenly aware where our only hope lies. Let’s not deceive ourselves that our lives are fine as they are and we have no need of a hope beyond ourselves. Most of us are acutely aware that what we hope for cannot be gained in this world. Nor should we let the trials and temptations of the year deceive us as to God’s true character. Christians trust in a ‘God of hope’ who, by the power of His Holy Spirit will make His people ‘abound in hope’. (Romans 15:13) And the point of the Christian hope is that it draws us out of our uncertainty so that we might live to serve and care for others.

Lawrence Braschi