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Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX

The Portland bomb attempt and Advent hope

“We just can’t get them all.” So admits a terrorism expert in the wake of last Friday’s attempt to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. This morning’s USA Today tells us that “Americans should expect more homegrown terrorist plots” in the future. I’m glad this is the Advent “week of hope.”

“Advent” translates the Latin adventus, celebrating Jesus’ arrival on Christmas. In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. Eastern Orthodox churches begin Advent on November 15 and observe the season for 40 days.

The Advent wreath has been in Christian use since the Middle Ages. Made of evergreens, the wreath symbolizes eternal life. Its holly leaves remind us of Jesus’ crown of thorns. The circle of the wreath symbolizes the eternality of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Jesus. Pine cones symbolize life and resurrection.

The four candles of the Advent Wreath represent the four weeks of Advent. The first is the Prophet’s Candle, symbolizing the “week of hope” in Jesus’ coming. The second is the Bethlehem Candle, symbolizing the “week of faith” as we remember Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. The third is the Shepherd’s Candle, symbolizing the “week of joy” at the coming of the Christ. The fourth is the Angel’s Candle, symbolizing the “week of peace” as we welcome “peace on earth, good will to men.”

This week we will think together about hope. The Presbyterian lay minister Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers” to us) once quoted an anonymous scrawling on the bulletin board of the great Notre Dame cathedral in Paris: “The world tomorrow will belong to those who brought it the greatest hope.”

Counselors and psychologists have long known the truth of those words. Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist and concentration camp survivor, documented the fact that those prisoners who believed in tomorrow best survived the horrors of today. Survivors of POW camps in Vietnam likewise reported that a compelling hope for the future was the primary force that kept many of them alive.

A mouse dropped in water will give up and drown in minutes. But if it is rescued, it will tread water for more than 20 hours the next time. Austin, Texas pastor Gerald Mann saw his church grow from 60 to 4,000 in 14 years. His explanation: “I know three things people want when they come to church: they want help, they want home, and they want hope.”

Where do you get your hope? It’s not a rhetorical question. What causes you to feel that your life has a future, a purpose, a reason to be? Do you have such a reason for hope? If you do, is it the right reason?

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