Get your hopes up?
Most parents know how tricky it is to help their children manage their hopes. At one and the same time we want our children to have both high hopes and realistic expectations. I was talking with someone whose daughter is applying to law school. In addition to schools that are very realistic options for her, she has chosen to apply to a few "stretch" schools, and has already been warned "Don't get your hopes up!" because getting into these schools is really tough.
Advent is often described as a season of hope--very high hopes--because we are longing for God to come and make this world what God wants it to be. What does God want it to be? Isaiah 65: 17-25 invites us to imagine that God is going to re-create society and bring about a "new heavens and a new earth." In this new world, there will be no more weeping, cries of distress, infant mortality, premature death, homelessness, hunger, fruitless labor or children born into hopelessness. What's more, there will be peace and harmony amongst all living things. Is this vision a stretch which needs a good dose of realism? Not at all. The prophets speak these words in troubled times. They speak these words when people are on the verge of falling into despair because the problems of the present time seem insoluble. They speak these words when people need to be reminded that not only is the prophetic vision the new world that God intends, but that God is going to be instrumental in bringing this world into being. Our hope is not that we alone have the resources to bring about this world. Our hope is that there is "a power at work within us that is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3: 20). In a world full of intractable problems, getting our hopes up a little too high is not the problem. The problem is that we get to the point where we can no longer imagine an alternative. The problem is that we get to the point where all our efforts to make this world a better place seem pointless. The problem is that we get to a point where we forget that there is a God who has a dream for our world and has promised to bring it into being. Get your hopes up! It is what Advent is all about.