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Every Advent as I double check to make sure we’ve got enough candles for the Advent wreath, I ask myself if the first candle – the hope candle – is big enough, strong enough, or slow-burning enough to make it all the way through the season. The candle of hope is lit before all of the other candles. It burns through all four Advent services and on Christmas Eve, too. It burns the longest, and every year I get nervous that it won’t make it all the way to Christmas.
This morning, as our first Advent worship service was in progress, I found my eyes wandering to the hope candle. I kept track of how slowly it was burning. I wondered if it would last until the wait was over. I imagined how far down it would burn if it kept on at the current rate. Maybe it would last long enough. Just maybe. And, then it dawned on me how perfectly poignant all of this was.
The hope candle burns the longest.
Isn’t that the way?
The thing about hope is that it requires a wait. If we’re already where we want to be, if the journey is already completed, there is nothing to hope for. If we’ve already arrived at the destination, there’s no need to hope. Hope and expectation are things of the journey, not of the arrival.
As it says in Romans 8:24-25:

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

If we’ve arrived – if we’ve realized the goal – there’s no longer any need to hope. Hope will have given way to reality. Promise will have been transformed into what was promised. Hope is the journey of expectation, waiting, and longing. Hope is refusal to give up when the wait drags on. Hope relies on the imagination to continue painting a clear picture of what is to come. Hope pushes us onward even when we’d rather give up.
Hope is messy. Difficulties arise. Troubles come. Roadblocks pop up. And the GPS sounds the repeated refrain, “Make a U-turn when possible” or “recalculating,” both of which add so much time to the trip. We never know how long the journey will take, though we continue anxiously trying to count down the minutes.  What we do know is that unexpected difficulties make the whole thing take longer.
Hope burns the longest, and sometimes we wonder if we have enough hope to make it until the promise becomes a reality. Our endurance flickers. Our determination wavers. Our imagination gets cloudy. And we wonder if there’s enough hope to get us through.
I once read an article on hope by a well-known Christian pastor and author. He said that it is a sin to lose hope. He said that hope that falters is evidence that we never had enough hope to begin with. I disagree.
When we light the candle of hope, we do not light it to illustrate our own ability to hope. When we light the candle of hope, we are reminded where our hope comes from. We are called to be a people of hope, not because we have some extra ability to remain hopeful but because we believe in the one who is the source of all hope. We hope because Christ is the hope of the world. And, when we can no longer hope on our own, we run to the one who will hope for us.
As it says in Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Friends, our candles will flicker from time to time. As our hope burns longer, we will wonder if are able to keep going. Advent reminds us that we do not hope on our own. When we are unable to hope, Christ is our hope. When we’ve got nothing left to shine, Christ is our light.
May the hope of Christ be with us all, whether this Advent finds us with strong flames or smoldering wicks.