Hope in a weary world

Trying to find a cap for a salad-dressing bottle in my kitchen, I thought of the places where the cap might have rolled or been misplaced. As I looked in those spots, the phrase that came to mind was, “I haven’t given up hope yet” — which was far weightier than the situation deserved. Though the bottle cap was trivial, I started thinking about what it means not to give up hope.

Hope begins with recognizing that the way things are is not how they should be.

Sometimes I wonder what the point is of trying to live conscientiously, when it seems to have such a small effect compared to the needs in the world.

Sometimes the search we think about giving up on is for hope itself. Often there are more reasons to despair than reasons to hope.

Where is hope to be found when increasingly severe storms batter nations, destroying homes and lives? Where is hope to be found when people gun others down in streets and schools, and families are left to mourn and fear? Where is hope to be found when homeowners are thrown out of houses they have held on to for generations?

Hope appears around the holidays on cards and in shop windows, yet it can feel like an empty word. The weeks before Thanksgiving through the beginning of the new year are the most difficult for many. Grief comes in waves, along with memories of loved ones who have died, loved ones who shaped holiday memories.

Poverty dampens planning for gifts and celebrations. Those providing aid to the poor are stretched. The actions of political leaders strain the available resources further when they think they can divide people into those deserving and undeserving of government aid in difficult circumstances — as though any of us were entirely one or the other, as though they had a right to judge others’ lives.

In times when hope seems hardest to find, we can turn to Scripture to remind us of how God brought people through times of deep despair, through valleys without a single ray of the sun shining. Scripture conveys the promise of “the days to come,” as Isaiah 2 proclaims, when “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills, all the nations shall stream to it.”

In this Advent season of waiting for the celebration of Christ’s coming into the world, we recall, as the hymn says, that the world is about to turn.

Hope begins with recognizing that the way things are is not how they should be. God gives us a vision of a world made new, where God reigns and we can all see each other as brothers and sisters.

Hope means not giving up on that vision. Hope means living as though that day were here. It means taking comfort in those whose lives reflect this hope.

Hope means not giving in to despair, despite the injustices around us, despite the pain of grief and loss.

Hope does not mean that we stop feeling anger or sadness at the brokenness in the world, or that the holidays become a time only of joy and cheer. Yet hope is what makes it more bearable. Hope allows us to not give up, to not lose sight of the biblical vision of God’s ultimate transformation of the world.

Hope is truly a gift of the season. God is Emmanuel, God with us, a God who shares our joys and sorrows, even our moments of despair. God’s hope is both presence and promise in a weary world.

Celeste Kennel-Shank is a hospital chaplain and community gardener in Chicago.