The words to this Charles Wesley Advent hymn express the difference between hope and optimism.
“Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne”
Do you hear the difference? Optimism is the belief in possibilities. Hope is the belief in expectations. For me, the biggest difference is that hope comes in a person. Jesus is our hope. The hope of all the earth. The answer to the grief that the prophets (and we) proclaimed. Hope that sets people free from sin, brokenness, and poverty. Hope is beyond our human understanding or control.
Let’s look at hope through a Wesleyan framework:
Scripture: Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).” It may be strange to quote this scripture when there are so many others specifically mentioning hope or our brokenness, but it is important to see that our hope in overcoming the brokenness of this world does not come in isolation. God is “with” us. Just as we are called to be in ministry with others we must always remember that because God is “with” us, we are able to do more than we ever thought possible.
Experience: I have countless stories of impossibilities that are suddenly realized into being. Miraculous healings. Financial provisions. Reconciled relationships. This is the freedom expected in Jesus and our hope for now and the future. With God it is possible for His kingdom to be established. We can experience heaven on earth once again.
Tradition: Since the 8th century Christians have been celebrating the season of Advent at the beginning of the Christian year. This celebration is about the expectation of Jesus coming into the world, not only at Christmas, but also again at the second coming. There is hope in both expectations. In the former, Jesus showed us how he would build the Kingdom of God with us, and the latter when the Kingdom will be fully realized. Working to eliminate poverty, to seek justice and to visit those in prison have been means of grace in our church (and part of working toward the Kingdom of God) since the days of Wesley.
Reason: People often ask if it is possible to see a world without suffering? A world without poverty? A world with no more crying our mourning? I believe it is. Look at the developments our world has made in terms of modern healthcare, sanitation, food production, food distribution, and mental health. Our world looks vastly different from the world of 100 years ago. We often focus on the things we lack, but when we look at how far we’ve come, we realize how much closer we are to Christian perfection. The goal is not yet realized but many great strides are being taken. We are closer than ever.
I don’t know what a world without sin will look like, but I expect it to happen. I have hope that our current reality is not our future reality. Something beautiful can be made out of our brokenness. And it all starts when we live into a life of hope.
P.S. – I’m looking forward to celebrating with you Friday, to remember when a new kind of hope entered the world. If you are traveling for Christmas, I hope you and your family have a joy filled and meaningful celebration!