In The Princess Bride, Westley (portraying the Dread Pirate Roberts) declares, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” We do not have to look very far to see that Westley is not wrong. The world does have more pain than it should. Better theologians than me have discussed the pain problem so I will leave that to them. Instead, I want to think through how Jesus saw hope. Let’s look at why Jesus compared His followers to a city on the hill.
First Candle of Advent
I started writing about the Advent season by talking about the silence of God. You can read that here if you have not already. Silence causes us to listen more intently. We strain our ears to hear the faintest of sounds. When waiting for the presence of God, we are called to be still. But even during the silence, we are called to remember who God is and what God has done. Our hope is built on the foundations of what God has done. We are sure God is on the move and at work, even if we don’t see it.
Hope is the salesman who proclaims that the world can be different. Many religious traditions and celebrations are built around the hope of remembrance. The Passover meal, which became the last supper, is a story full of God’s provision and grace. The blood of the lamb was the sign for death to pass over the household. And then Jesus ate the meal with His closest friends, revealing that it pointed to a greater reality than the Exodus. Jesus’ Life, death, and resurrection created hope and forgiveness for any who make Him Lord of their lives. He offers hope of forgiveness and redemption. In His words, are Life eternal.
As we approach the Advent season in 2023, we are right to wonder: Where is the hope that Jesus promised? America is deeply divided. War rages in Ukraine and Palestine. Sickness and disease are exacerbated by a lack of access to quality, affordable healthcare. The world’s wealth is concentrated in a handful of individuals. Loneliness and depression are at historically high levels. How can Christians still proclaim that God and Jesus have plans? Where is hope amid this turmoil and tribulation?
Paul explains these as birth pangs. The entire creation has been groaning, waiting for God’s Kingdom to be established on earth. However, we live in a time that has started but is not yet completed. We see and hope for God’s Kingdom but are also called to work. Our work is to continue establishing God’s Kingdom, as Jesus showed and taught us. Creation longs for redemption. Hope brings into focus the future possibilities.
City on the Hill
When prophets proclaimed that a messiah would one day come, the people of God imagined a ruler who would exercise military authority, win victory, and establish an earthly kingdom to rival Rome. But God often subverts our expectations. Jesus was born in a manger. A carpenter’s son, He held no particular position of authority. When the people tried to make Him king, He hid. In the end, he did not kill even one foreign adversary. Yet He still proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was here.
Jesus tasked his followers with proclaiming and building the Kingdom. He taught them that they were like a city on a hill. Today, the purpose of being a city on the hill gets lost. We can turn on our GPS or Google Maps on our phones and instantly know where to go. But in Jesus’ day, a city on a hill was there to be seen. At night, the torches on the walls and the lamps would help lost travelers know where to go. If you were lost in darkness, you needed a city on the hill to find your way home. God’s Kingdom is a spiritual city on the hill made up of followers of Jesus.
It must have been something to see Jesus teach and perform miracles. But to think that He, in turn, sent His disciples out to do likewise is even more astounding. He proclaimed this in the Sermon on the Mount. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are the light of the world. When the world wonders where hope and redemption are, the answer is you. Life can be filled with pain. The world can be dark and troubling. But you, you followers of Jesus, are a city on the hill, a light in the darkness that guides people home.
So this advent season, when you see a candle (or Christmas lights in general, which are electric approximations of candles), may you be reminded of what Jesus said about you. When friends, family, or strangers wonder if they can experience hope, remember that you are the city on the hill. When Jesus announced a coming kingdom by inviting His friends to join in and then sending them out to tell the world, he is still in the calling and sending business today. Do you hear His voice? Listen with all your heart because you are the light of the world, a city on the hill, and proclaim a Kingdom filled with hope.