Have you ever prayed to God about something for a long time? I mean, I really long time, so long that you started wondering if God was listening? So long that you thought to yourself, “Okay, maybe God’s got something better planned,” but you keep praying anyway? So long that your friends have started giving you that line about how sometimes God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers? (That’s from Garth Brooks, by the way, not the Bible.)
Have you ever keep praying anyway, because what you’re praying for is good: healing or health, or a new job, a mended relationship, or peace with your children? Have you ever kept praying, even though God was silent? Where’s the hope?
The first chapter of the Gospel of Luke tells the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, who have been praying for a child for a long, long time. “Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord, but they had no children because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years” (Luke 1:7-8).
Then, one day in the temple, an angel appears and announces that Elizabeth and Zechariah will have a son. Zechariah doesn’t believe. He doesn’t need to believe it. That’s the beauty of hope.
Hope is not a hunch. Hope is a conviction. We believe in the future, not because of ourselves or our choices, our government or laws. We believe in the future because it belongs to God. Somehow, in ways unknown to us, God is active in history, slowly, systematically, bringing suffering to an end. At the end of history, its final chapter will describe a world in which there will be neither pain nor suffering, neither violence nor war, neither fear nor disease, neither death nor sorrow, anymore. That’s God’s love stretched endlessly into the future.
Fear not, friends and neighbors. Prayers will be answered. Hope will come, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger.