We have a hope to cling to, and that hope is found in our Saviour.
Viktor Frankl was a Jewish concentration camp survivor. Within months of his liberation in 1945, he wrote a book, titled, Man’s Search for Meaning. He wrote the entire manuscript in 9 days. He was 40 years old.
In the book, Frankl chronicles the power of hope and the survival of some of the Jews that were housed in horrifying conditions. In 1944, he noticed an unusual spike in deaths, happening just between Christmas and New Year’s Day. He notes that there had been a group of prisoners who seemed to have roused themselves as the result of a rumor that they would be liberated before Christmas. It was hope. It gave them reason to carry on. But then, when the end of the year was upon them and Christmas had passed, these prisoners lost all hope. They died. Frankl chronicles that we simply can’t live without hope. Those who survived had a reason to live, and a hope to cling to.
But Frankl never gives us a universal reason for hope. For him, meaning in life and hope are subjective. Each person has to determine this for themselves. What then should we do when every objective reason to keep on hoping fails? Enter the Christian faith.
G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all…As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”
You might wonder if Chesterton was right. After all, the way in which our culture uses the word “hope”, is often no more than a synonym for optimism. For instance, when a pre-med student says, “I hope I will get into medical school”, he or she might be expressing a longing or even a sense of optimism, but he or she is not expressing certainty.
But the Biblical view of the hope of the believer is rooted in certainty. And in this way, hope is connected to faith. Faith is a confidence in God, whereas hope is a confidence that God’s future promises will be fulfilled.
There is a connection between Chesterton’s definition of hope and the Christmas theme of hope, especially as is found in Isaiah. Isaiah promises that out of the stump of Jesse, a shoot will spring forth. That is, after David’s throne has been overthrown, the hoped-for Messiah coming from that throne seems now to be impossible. And yet, the Messiah will come from that root system. It is a hope against all hope.
In the same way, whether it is our bodily resurrection from the dead or the hope that Jesus will yet one day rule the earth, these hopes seem like an impossibility. And yet, if hope is rooted in the promises of a God who cannot lie, the hope lives in spite of the hopelessness that we might feel.
For this reason, Christmas for Christians is always the revival of our enduring and undying hope. We know that the present evil age cannot last. We know that Christ will reign. Hence, our life in the present gives us meaning.