The Bumpy Road To Hope

Hope fills the Advent season. Light builds from week to week in Advent candelabra anticipating the full light to shine at the coming of Christ. We look, we long, we anticipate with eagerness the coming of Christ. And he will coming again to make all things right, fully establishing his kingdom, and God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. This is our hope. It will not go unrewarded.

But the road to our hope is not smooth. While assuring us that we boast in our hope of glory in Romans 5.1-5, Paul also teaches us that we “boast in tribulations.” Our hope of glory is the future. Tribulations are in the present, and they are the path to realizing our hope of glory. It seems somewhat morbid to be boasting in tribulations. However, Paul is not masochistic. He takes no pleasure in pain, but neither is pain purposeless. We can boast in tribulations because we know what God is doing. It is part of the Christian story.

Earlier in Romans we read that no matter whether you are Gentile or Jew, if you share the faith of Abraham, then you are part of Abraham’s family. To put it in other words, you are member of the covenant that God made with Abraham. Abraham was justified (that is, forgiven of sins and counted righteous before God) on account of his faith. Abraham’s family is justified in the same way. But that is not all that is included in that covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. God also promised that before Abraham’s family received their inheritance, they would have to go through slavery and suffering. Only after this would they come into their full inheritance. If we are share Abraham’s justification, then we also share in his sufferings as the path to our hope of glory, our inheritance.

Paul makes it clear that this is most certainly the case. But this is also why we can boast in our tribulations. They don’t take us by surprise. This is the way things ought to be. The road to our hope is a bumpy road filled with Pharaohs, giants, physical maladies, persecutions, and many other sorts of tests of our faith. But the tribulations of believers are for our exercise and not for our destruction. Tribulations work good things in us. Tribulations work perseverance, endurance, patience. Just as when you put your heart through tribulation through exercise you produce endurance and a healthier heart, so God puts you through tribulations to build up your strength.

Perseverance works proven character. As you continue in the faith, facing the trials in all of your frailty and weakness, relying upon the grace that God is providing and surviving, our character is changed. We are made into people who are tried-and-true.

Proven character works in us hope. That hope is God’s promise to us that is as sure God himself becomes a part of us, shaping our thinking, developing our affections, and directing our lives. This hope sinks deeply into our bones. We become the people of hope, unshaken by the world’s temptations and impervious to their attacks on us.

To be true “Advent Christians,” we must be those who endure faithfully the tribulations through which God leads us. God is not out to destroy us. He is like the coach that is pushing us to get the best out of us, to make us more than we ever thought we could be. Unlike any coach we’ve ever had, God knows what he has given us, so he knows exactly what he can get out of us and what our potential is. God is not putting us through our paces because enjoys seeing us suffer. He is sending us through tribulation to see us mature. As we endure in faith, we become the people of hope, and we learn more deeply the message of Advent.