The Christian Hope for Today

Added about 4 years ago by Peter Sills

GUEST BLOG: There is much to depress us in today’s world, but Peter Sills explains why his Christian faith sustains his hope for the future.

The Advent Antiphons have been described as some of the most beautiful prayers ever written. I can’t remember when I first came across these ancient praises of Jesus, but they have found a place in my soul, and every year I look forward to the seven days before Christmas when they mark the final countdown to the festival. They each begin with the word “O”, a word of longing that echoes down the Bible. The final antiphon reads:

O Emmanuel,
Hope of the nations and their saviour;
come and save us, Lord our God.

These prayers are familiar to Christians in a versified form through the hymn ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel!’. Like other preachers, I have often used them in sermons in Advent, and one year the idea came to me of exploring the antiphons together with the ten “I am” sayings of Jesus (from both the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation). I thought I might, one day, make more of this than a sermon series, but other things got in the way, and quite how to proceed eluded me—that is, until, many years later, I realized that the antiphons were prayers of hope. So, the exploration that led to Light in the Darkness began. Initially, I saw it as an Advent book to parallel my Lent book, The Time Has Come, but I found that I was led on a different journey. Central to that journey was the realization that the message of the antiphons reaches beyond Advent, just as the message of the Incarnation reaches beyond Christmas.

The antiphons provide a good structure for the exploration of hope: they express a sustained and hopeful longing; they speak of a hope that is both personal and social; and they reflect the hopes of people in every age and of every faith. The hopes that I identify are for truth, justice, freedom, a new beginning, light, peace, and love—seven hopes that are brought together in the one, great hope for God. The “I am” sayings affirm that in Jesus the hopes expressed in the antiphons are fulfilled, and explored together they help us to enter more deeply into the meaning of the Incarnation, to see more clearly how Jesus fulfils our hopes, and the difference it makes to our lives if we put our hope in him.

It has been a challenging journey. The antiphons connect the Christian hope in Christ to its Jewish roots, reminding us of the extent to which we Christians have made our faith a private thing, losing contact with its bearing on social, political, economic and business life—though for many years now the Church has striven to regain that connection. They focus the basic question of the faith: Who comes first, God or me? The common good or our individual wants and ambitions? Too often we let our personal desires and our moral and political preferences shape our faith, but if we really want God to come first, then our faith should shape our lives, our ethics, our relationships, and our politics; and it is in our political and business affairs that this challenge is most demanding. To explore hope in this context has led me to reflect on the economic ideas that shape our common life, and the social and personal ideas that shape us as people. In each case, whether it be truth, justice, freedom, peace or love, I believe the Christian faith offers a distinctively deeper understanding than contemporary ideas, and wherever we place ourselves on the moral and political spectrum, this is the standard by which we are judged.

There is much to depress us in today’s world, but I remain hopeful. The Christian understanding of both the human person and human society offers a way forward out of our present confusions, and at a time when Christianity is often portrayed in negative terms it is important to stress the positive vision that it offers. While Christians do not have all the answers, and indeed have been marred by the all-too-human failings that have led to deeply grievous, shaming and shocking abuses of power and authority, we remain the guardians of a treasure that offers hope both to individuals and to the world. When we transcend the temptation to reduce religion to a badge of identity, and allow the love of God that Jesus proclaimed to shape our values and our perspectives we find, I believe, a deep source of hope.

Peter Sills is an Anglican priest and pilgrimage guide. After an initial career teaching law at Kingston, he was ordained in 1981 and served in three parishes in south London before being appointed a Residentiary Canon at Ely Cathedral, where he was Vice-Dean from 2003 to 2008. As well as over thirty pilgrimages in Europe and the Middle East, Peter has led a variety of courses on Christian spirituality in Britain, the USA, and at the Anglican Centre in Rome. Now retired, he continues his ministry from his home in Sussex.

His new book Light in the Darkness explores the Christian hope for today. Peter Sills shows that Christian hope is not merely a hope for the life to come, but also for the life here and now. Get your copy today.

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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