Somewhere in frozen February, hope quietly begins.
It rarely makes its presence known through bold, dramatic gestures—rushing waterfalls; flocks of warblers in the yard; banks of daffodils emerging as though drawn by Disney animators.
Hope is a much more hidden thing, at least for a while, perhaps for now.
All our preaching and our teaching must underscore the relational truth at the core of the gospel.
When one small snowy bloodroot has pushed dry oak leaves aside on some south-facing hill in March, I hope.
When months of cold rigidity give way to sounds of dripping icicles beneath the surface of the creek, I hope.
When some brave red-winged blackbird taunts the leaden sky from last year’s cattails down beside the pond, I hope.
Hope, at its heart, must build on some experience with the thing it is longing for. This is what separates true hope from what is better labeled “wish.” I wish that time travel were somehow available—that I could interview Vivaldi in eighteenth-century Italy and come to truly understand that sweet alignment of mere notes that makes one quarter of The Four Seasons truly sound like spring.
I hope, however, in the prophecy fulfilled by the first robin on the lawn this spring, for I have seen robins before. I’ve heard the liquid chortle over an earthworm, seen the head turned sideways in attentiveness, because life requires listening. It’s just because I have a long experience of seeing robins that I hope—intensely, fervently—that this one is the signal I’ve been waiting for.
I can imagine many things, for animators everywhere have given us capacity to “see” unreal, truly unbelievable things. But I hope for just those things that have a piece of memory in them, that touch some once-heard melody in the heart and make me long to hear the music again.
Hope, at its heart, must build on some experience with the thing it is longing for.
When we as Adventists strategically brand ourselves as a “people of hope”—who watch taped Prophecies of Hope on a church-owned television network called the Hope Channel—we are reminding our world and each other that there must be a real experience with Jesus that undergirds the happy expectation of His return. It’s simply not enough to imagine the second coming of the Lord as captured by the brush of Harry Anderson or Nathan Greene, powerful and gripping as those images are, unless we have included ourselves in the foreground of the canvas. If the Second Advent is the “blessed hope,” it’s only because we already know the blessedness of time well spent with Jesus, and have already come to hope—intensely, fervently—that we may spend forever with Him and enjoy Him just as long. We hope for His return just because we can’t imagine a future anywhere but with Him.
Thus, all our preaching and our teaching—every Sabbath morning sermon, every Tuesday night Revelation Seminar—must underscore the relational truth at the core of the gospel. Jesus is returning for His people because He is on their side, because He can’t abide the thought of an eternity without the ones who love Him so intently. Yes, He comes to judge the nations; yes, He comes to cleanse the earth by fire. But He is firstly coming to embrace the ones who have a long experience with Him, who have been listening to His quiet voice behind the screaming of the headlines, who have great memories from hours of thoughtful conversation.
Jesus is coming for His friends, and His friends believe Him—hope in Him—because they know from long experience that He keeps every promise.
This is the beating heart of Adventism, and why we live in hope.