I wonder what comes to mind when you hear that word?
A desire for something to change?
There’s been enough going on in our world recently to make even the most optimistic progressive want to give up. We’ve even taken to criticising those of us who have suggested that things may not be as bad as we at first think, that this may be a time of challenge, but also of great opportunity.
Hope appears diminished, bismirched somehow…an unattainable wisp of a thing. Our world is a mess, with little to suggest that there’s any way out. We are crushed.
Two thousand years ago a people were groaning under the weight of an empire of violence and economic exploitation. They had dared to dream before, and been ruthlessly crushed time and time again. Hundreds of years earlier they had heard from their prophets that their God was on the move, that they weren’t alone, that rescue was on its way. They had hoped…and then…
Something like four hundred years of silence.
Glimpses, but only that.
I wonder what ‘hope’ meant to them?
A king who would ride to their aid, salvation coming through the blood of their enemies. A priest to lead them once again into the presence of the One.
But not now. That was a time gone past. No longer did things work in that way. The world is a mess, and there seems to be no way out.
Perhaps there were still a small number who kept the faith. Perhaps some for whom hope still breathed deep in their souls. Those expectant few.
The Greek word that appears throughout the New Testament where we read ‘hope’ might better be translated as ‘expectant’. A sense that something is coming, something is happening. Not an empty, dreamy thing, but a visceral, tangible expression of denial that the way things are is the way things have to be.
A Latin version of the text would use the word ‘spero’ for hope, which is etymologically related to the word ‘spiro’ – breathe. It’s almost as if they’re saying to hope is to breathe, or visa versa, to breathe is to hope.
If we breathe, we have hope. If we have hope, we can keep breathing.
Dum spiro spero…
‘While I breathe, I hope.’
Advent is a period of preparation, a time of patient reflection, expectation. Our world is changing for ever. Advent is hope.
Something is coming. Something real.
We breathe, we hope.
We are hope.
Our world is a mess, but we are bearers of that which has the potential to transform all that appears dark into light. We must never give up our expectation, our breath. To do so would be to stop breathing, to expire.
Dum spiro spero…