Earlier this week, I came across this piece by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. It’s part of the “Time for reflection” slot that he delivered to the Scottish Parliament on 23 November 2011. I’ve quoted it at length because I think it fits well with the theme of Advent.
I wonder, though, if we – in the Christian church – approach Advent with a sense of hope or a sense of optimism. I suspect that we tend towards the latter.
These are tough times for Scotland, for Europe and for the world, and the turbulence goes deeper than the current financial crisis, the threat of economic recession and the political turmoil that is affecting several of the nation states of Europe. The tectonic plates of history itself are shifting.
They are doing so because of the cumulative, accelerating changes brought about by new information technology, from the web to smartphones to instantaneous global communication, which will transform our world as profoundly as did the invention of printing in the 15th century. Our world is changing and we cannot tell where that will lead. We can, though, surely say what we need to negotiate that change.
The key word is hope. Hope is often confused with another idea, namely optimism. They sound similar but actually they are quite different. Optimism is the belief that things will get better; hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better. Optimism is a passive virtue, hope an active one. It needs no courage at all to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to hope. The great prophet Isaiah was not an optimist, but he was the poet laureate of hope.
Hope is born when we see ourselves as co-authors of our future, when we work together for the common good and for the sake of our grandchildren not yet born, and when we exercise our gifts of freedom and responsibility—twin testimonies to God’s faith in us. It is one of the noblest tasks of politics in an age of change to sustain a vision of hope, knowing that what none of us can do on our own, all of us can do together. Hope alone has the power to defeat the politics of fear.
May God be with you in all you do.