Many of us see Christmas as a time to celebrate and a time to serve. I do. It’s been a sweet season of Advent for me. Our church has followed the Lucan Christmas story for several weeks, tracing the Xmas themes of Hope, Faith, Joy, & Peace in our Sunday gatherings. They’ve been powerful and missional. Sermons have been missional and people have been missional. In sermons, we’ve built in a soft apologetic in an attempt to appeal to those who are struggling with doubt, faith, hope and peace. Consider hope.
Who Needs Hope?
We live in a culture of gross hopelessness. That’s probably not what comes to mind when you think about America. When we think of hopelessness, we think of Africa—economic oblivion, medical crisis, social mayhem, political turmoil. We think of people in despair, and sure there’s despair in our own country, depression over layoffs, a twinge of pain recalling lost loved ones, and so on. Despair is one form of hopelessness, a form that can only be sufficiently reworked, redeemed, through the hope of the gospel.
But there is another, rampant form of hopelessness in America. Presumption. Presumption is the overconfident rejection of hope. If despair gives up on hope, presumption pushes hope down, dispenses with it. With our lives fairly secure, not lacking much in the way of material needs, or even wants, it’s easy to dispense with hope. “Hope is for the hopeless”, we think to ourselves, not realizing that our very thought betrays a sort of hopelessness. A lack of hope.
The Hopelessness of Presumption
Josef Pieper, a German theologian, wrote a book in the middle of the 20th century called On Hope, and in it he describes presumption as: “a premature, self-willed anticipation of the fulfillment of what we hope for from God.” I’ll put it in plain language. Presumption is a leap into the future, an insistence that the future be the present. Heaven on earth. It bypasses hope, insisting we have heaven on earth now. Instant fulfillment.
Are we insisting on the future in the present? A little heaven on earth? Are you stockpiling assets for your own security? Insisting on a standard of living that is supported, not by hope, but by irresponsible debt? Driving cars we can’t really afford, renting where we don’t belong, paying bills and buying Christmas gifts on the credit card? We try to eliminate the need for hope in our quest for security and wealth. Presumption refuses hope, it rejects the persevering nature of hope, its arduousness, which makes it so admirable, and as a result, becomes “the fraudulent imitation of hope.” (Pieper) But Christian hope forgoes present joys for the greater future joy. It sacrifices present comfort for the sake of others. It goes not into irresponsible debt but into deliberate generosity. Hope stirs us to mission.
What could you do this Christmas to express true Xn hope? Pieper notes: “In the sin of presumption, mans desire for security is so exaggerated that it excels the bounds of reality.” Our material desires are exaggerated beyond reality and beyond God’s promise. God never guaranteed a mansion this side of glory. Somehow we forget that Jesus was a homeless messiah, who told us that no disciple is above his master (Luk 6:40). Somehow we forget that he was born in “shit and straw”, surrounded by animals. Somehow we reject the hope of the world in favor of the illusion of security.
The reality is that we are all hopeless, having much or having little. We lack very little certainty about the future or clarity about God’s will apart from Jesus. To hope in Christ is to confess that what we have is not enough, and what we don’t have is too much for us to handle. Hope sets our despair and presumption before God in confession, confession of self-centered, inward, focus.
Choose hope this Advent. Live like you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Instead of hording be giving. Let your life stand out in hope, in the Hope of the World.