Monthly Archives: November 2009

Hope Worth Working For

Hope Worth Working For

First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2009


        How could anything other than hope begin the themes of Advent?  Prophets and faithful people of Israel labored through centuries of political, economic, and religious corruption by their own leaders plus the burden of oppression by conquering foreign powers.  Those who kept covenant relationship with God worked diligently to renew the kingdom of peace, joy, and love promised by God through the hope of a Messiah.  Reading their testimonies of faith through the lens of history, we share their eager hope as we expectantly look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus.  As hope dawns and comes to full brilliance in our hearts, we long to exclaim in a perennial favorite Christmas carol: ”Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

        But there’s a problem often short-circuiting our fervent hope.  Hope can be fragile.  Hope too often can be counterfeited, passing off fleeting and faulty pleasures for the enduring, life-giving promises we hope for.  When we fall for false hope and suffer the inevitable crash, anguish and despair nearly choke us.  Just consider the past year’s tragic misplacement of hope in the easy-credit/soaring stock and real estate markets/living-beyond-our-means bubbles that abruptly burst.  The “death of hope” became a hot topic of news and social commentary, not to mention an intense, very real struggle for many people.

        Genuine hope engenders strength, enduring values, and a positive spirit that strains forward in eager anticipation of the advent of what is hoped for.  When one is gripped by true hope, active participation in preparations for hope’s arrival and glad work to fulfill the promised hope abound.

        False hope – an inferior imitation of the genuine article – persists in telling the lie that immediate gratification is the way to realize one’s hopes.  “I want it all – and I want it NOW!” is the tag line of a series of credit card commercials from the recent past.  Along with other ad campaigns, this one offered the empty promise that everything in the world could be yours, easy as pie, almost effortlessly.  Multitudes of people fell for it.  Similar empty visions from economic and political marketers and religious charlatans promise instant realization of personal prosperity with little personal involvement required – except your generous contribution to their “war chest.”

        Everyday experience should expose such low-demand promises of a “better life” as utterly false hope.  Genuine hope , according to Scripture, is inseparably linked with productive, meaningful participation and work toward what is hoped for.  In the very first words Paul wrote in his letter to believers in one city, he was mindful of a triad of qualities they demonstrated as followers of Jesus: “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3 NIV)  Work, labor and endurance are closely connected with genuine hope.  False hope sometimes lures us away from the arduous task of waiting and working for the genuine article that may be not yet in view by flashing something we can have right now, today before our eyes.  Too many such quick fixes for our desires do not provide sustaining power and grace.  Again, Paul was aware of the temptation to clutch onto what is immediately available, rather than to wait and work for God’s genuine gifts of hope: “We were saved, and we have this hope. If we see what we are waiting for, that is not really hope. People do not hope for something they already have. {25} But we are hoping for something we do not have yet, and we are waiting for it patiently.” (Romans 8:24-25 NCV)  Paul’s counsel was reiterated by the preacher to Hebrew Christians.  The preacher encouraged followers of Christ to follow him all the way into the attainment of God’s eternal peace promised through their faith in Jesus: “We want each of you to go on with the same hard work all your lives so you will surely get what you hope for. {12} We do not want you to become lazy. Be like those who through faith and patience will receive what God has promised.” (Hebrews 6:11-12 NCV) 

        Perhaps you have read or heard this tale that illustrates the benefits of finding a genuine hope worth working for.  I was reminded of the story in a stewardship testimony given by George Barnes, a Deacon at First Baptist Church, Huntsville, Alabama.  It is the story of Desert Pete, and the hope he provided for a desperately thirsty traveler across a parched desert in southern California.  The story was the basis for a song recorded by the Kingston Trio in 1963.  (Bonus this week!  This could be your first, most unusual  Christmas song this year.  Follow the link to a video of a performance of the song, Desert Pete.  The group is not the Kingston Trio, but their rendition is OK.)

Here’s the story of Desert Pete:

      The following letter was found in a baking powder can wired to the handle of an old pump that offered the only hope of drinking water on a very long and seldom-used trail across the Amargosa Desert:

                    “This pump is all right as of June 1932. I put a new sucker washer into it and it ought to last five years. But the washer dries out and the pump has got to be primed

        Under the white rock I buried a bottle of water, out of the sun and cork end up. There’s enough water in it to prime the pump, but not if you drink some first. Pour about one fourth and let her soak to wet the leather. Then pour in the rest medium fast and pump like crazy. You’ll git water. The well has never run dry. Have faith.

        When you git watered up, fill the bottle and put it back like you found it for the next feller.” — Desert Pete

      “               P.S. Don’t go drinking up the water first. Prime the pump with it and you’ll get all you can hold.”

              The Christian churches’ response in worship in Advent is, “Jesus Christ has come! Jesus Christ is coming again!”  Hope is the starting and ending point of the celebration of God’s grace we observe at Christmas.  Only, don’t be an idle observer.  Don’t settle for the false hope of Black Friday and the commercialized holiday.  Look forward to the genuine hope of abundant and everlasting life that arrives in Jesus.  Desert Pete wishes you a blessed Advent with a faithful reminder: find genuine hope – and pump like crazy!

              – J. Edward Culpepper

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