Driving home today I spotted some Christmas decorations adorning a house around the corner from mine. Prominently displayed in the set up were three words – Peace, Love, and Joy. As decorations go, I’ll take prominent displays of these words over all the inflatable Santa Clauses on the planet. These words also match up nicely to three of the four themes of Advent, which only makes them all the more wondrous to behold. And yet, that’s the point, it’s only three out of the four. An Advent theme is missing.
Where’s the hope?
Now, I doubt the kind people who created this display set out to deliberately exclude hope. In fact, you could make an excellent case what we hope for during advent is peace, love, and joy. So, in a sense, hope is at least strongly implied in the display.
Still, I find its absence interesting. As I reflected upon all the holiday decorations I’ve seen, I found I had a difficult time remembering at time I did see hope explicitly mentioned. Peace, love, and joy are all over the place this time of year – but hope doesn’t seem to get the same amount of air time.
Part of me wonders if it’s because hope tends to require a goal for which to hope, whereas love, peace, and joy can be interpreted as generic sentiments 1. When we say “hope” there could be a subconscious fear someone might ask, “Hope? Hope for what?” Granted, as stated above, the answer to that question could be as simple as saying, “Peace, love and joy.” But perhaps it’s just easier to skip a step and bypass the question.
Another part of me wonders if hope gets short-changed because it’s viewed as passive. In our culture, people who hope are often depicted as people waiting in the corner for someone else to take action. “Hope” is for weak people who don’t have the resolve to take to the streets to protest injustice, or the strength to stand up to “bad guys” when horrible events unfold in their presence. Sometimes I think our culture considers hope and says, “What good is hope, when there’s work to be done?”
Yet another part of me wonders if we’ve just grown so pessimistic hope is now seen as delusional. The world is a mess. We seem to be accelerating our ability to destroy both ourselves and the planet, and there is no “brighter future” coming. And so hope gets dropped from the equation. We’ll live in peace, show love, and have some “holiday spirit” 2 – but, instinctively, we don’t dare to even consider hope. After all, if you look at how we view the future through the eyes of popular fiction 3, there is no hope.
Like I said, I seriously doubt most folks have throught for even a second about hope’s absence. Peace, love, and joy sound wonderful – and they are wonderful – so they go with expressing those sentiments. But if Christians can add anything back to our culture in this season, just maybe it’s that missing hope. It is the most painful and profound of all Advent’s longings, and reminds us that it’s worth doing good in this world, because one day all things will be made new.