“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
For many Christians this is the season of Advent. Like all seasons of the church year, Advent amplifies themes that accompany the Christian life year-round.
Central to Advent is the theme of ‘hope’. But the Christian hope does not run off into a myriad of directions merely reflecting our plans, dreams and projects. The Christian hope is centered in Jesus Christ. Which is to say that whatever hopes we may entertain in our finite lives, they must give way, make room for the realization of a hope that is of an entirely different kind.
I believe it was the German Lutheran pastor and theologian Helmut Thielecke who observed that God has not entered the world in Christ only to shut the door of eternity behind him. To confess the gift of hope in Christ is to confess a hope that is not and cannot be grounded in ourselves. The very fact of the Incarnation of God in Jesus, the fact that eternity has entered history, is a sign of this. The fulfillment of the future is not simply the culmination of humanity’s projected dreams of peace and justice. The fulfillment of God’s kingdom will be just that, God’s bringing about something utterly new and not the coming together of strands by which humanity weaves the dreams of a utopia.
Although the fulfillment of the future is taken out of our hands, the promise of a new heaven and new earth sets up both goals and boundaries for our lives now.
Since we know the broad parameters of the kingdom are sketched in the terms of faith, hope and love, the temporal goal of the Christian and the Church as a whole must be to fight against the powers in this life that would turn hope into despair, turn faith or trust inward on the self or on history, and pervert love into an endless number of misplaced loyalties which in the end is idolatry.
The boundaries of the promised kingdom also keep us from wandering off into Marxian, utopian dreams which would leave all prior generations in death with no share in its’ blessings. Instead the Christian hope reflects our belief in the resurrection of the dead, the sign that all people will be in proximity to the fulfillment of God’s promises, according to His will.
To hope in Jesus Christ is to believe that the weights of time and temporal life have lost their power to crush us into meaninglessness. This is precisely the hope that Jesus Himself held in His Father as he wept in the garden and hung on the bloody Cross. There is a new humanity coming. But as Christians we do not believe we will be lead by one another along paths of our own making to a self-made future. We are held in faith by the One who struggled in this life, as we must, and who entered into death, as we will, which will bring all our plans to nothing.
Therefore, in the final analysis, our hope extends into the vast, empty topography of death. For our final hope is that even as we lay bound in death’s cold grip we will hear our name, as the sheep knows the voice of the Shepherd. Then, like ancient Lazarus we will see with our eyes the One who has promised, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”