The Difference between happiness and hope:
The Temporal and the transcendent.
Advent is a tradition in the western church that dates back to the sixth century and is a time often filled with joy and anticipation. Children are the best to watch during this season. There is something about children’s grasp on anticipation that is beautiful and pure. Waiting to open presents, seeing grandparents or waiting for the feast of desserts and other treats many of us are accustomed to on this beautiful day showcase a child’s anticipation.
In today’s culture much more emphasis is put on happiness as an overall important goal or meta-narrative for the season as opposed to other objectives. “It’s the happiest time of the year ” is one of those all too familiar phrases we are accustomed to hear from radio, television and other advertizing mediums. Happiness is indeed a gift and one found in abundance around Christmas, at least in the western world; but it’s a gift that is fleeting at best. Happiness can be a fickle friend at times. Situations change, struggle and strife in our world are inevitable and this is where hope becomes so necessary. Hope has the ability to dwell with us even when difficulty, trial and darkness are rampant.
Hope can be our companion even in the worst of times. I like how Bonheoffer speaks about Advent, “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes... and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”
Of course Bonheoffer was a part of the “confessing church” thus alive at the time Nazi occupied Germany was at its pinnacle of power and he knew the literal reality of being held in prison for his faith. Soberly, Bonheoffer better understands the limits of happiness and thus decided to instead cling to hope amidst the bars of his prison.
Bonheoffer knew that the hope that is culminated at the end of advent is the very God of creation. God dwelling with his people is most definitely a thought that brings happiness but at the same time so much more then happiness. Hope is more then a fleeting gift or thought; it’s a glimpse of the eternal, beyond circumstances or situations. The hope that advent brings means that even in the midst of trial and persecution the reality of hope is available, and this is the fundamental difference between the two.
As we move into advent this year I pray your advent to indeed be happy but more importantly I pray for it to be filled with hope found in the incarnation. Hope, a feeling and a reality that transcends the temporal and aims at eternity.