Hope is the anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promises. This is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent anticipates the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Messiah and portends the second coming of the Messiah as well. Advent promises peace. Its promise is external to us, yet demands an internal response.
Martin Thielen relates the following story in Searching For Happiness. You see, hope brings happiness, and happiness is rooted in contentment.
“Larry shared with me something that caught me completely off guard. He said, ‘For the past several years, I’ve been struggling with a strong spirit of discontentment.’ Larry lived a charmed life. A handsome, intelligent, and outgoing man, he served a large and respected church in his home state. His wife, an attractive woman who sings like an angel, is smart, kind, and exceptionally funny. They have two beautiful and gifted children…yet, in spite of all those blessings, Larry told me he rarely felt satisfied and had no inner peace…Larry thought, ‘If only I could get a bigger and better church, then I would be content…’ Larry finally said to me: ‘It’s taken several years and numerous counseling sessions, but I’ve learned something extremely important. I’ve finally figured out that the problem is not my church or my vocation—but me. I’ve learned that my restlessness and discontentment are not an external problem but an internal problem. I’ve learned that happiness is an inside job…’ External circumstances, including our jobs, have little impact on overall life satisfaction. In fact, external circumstances, including our job, money, house, and personal appearance, account for only a fraction of a person’s happiness. Science, experience, and Scripture all clearly teach that happiness is indeed, in Larry’s words, ‘an inside job.'”
Hope brings happiness and contentment. Hope is experienced as we take seriously the person and purpose of Jesus Christ. And that is an internal process that each one of us must continuously address. The prophet Isaiah brings to the Christian community a unique witness. He proclaimed the prophecy God gave him in the eighth century B.C. His word was for the people of Judah to learn from the destruction of Israel about the dynamics expected of them in relationship with God. Isaiah prophesied of a new Israel, a new kingdom of God, and a new people of God who would seek after salvation, learn from the Lord, and walk in the Lord’s ways. Isaiah spoke of the Messiah, for only through the Messiah would the new Zion be formed, the new people be created, and the new world order established. The search then is the search today. Happiness and contentment are found in Jesus Christ…the Messiah of Advent…it is an internal work and process unrelated to what is going on around us.
All nations would come to Mt. Zion. The verb voice is passive in that Zion would not raise itself to its stature, but someone else would act as subject and Mt. Zion would be the object of that subject’s action. The world will come to Mt. Zion seeking to hear the truth and to live the truth. God will teach God’s way to the people. The Lord will judge and the Lord will arbitrate. The people will change swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Nations will not lift swords against other nations. Nations will no longer learn war. Only the Lord’s word and the Lord’s ways bring hope. They provide the proper instruction and discipline to experience happiness and contentment.
Seeking happiness and contentment is an internal work. It will not be found in external forms of pleasure nor be squelched by pain of circumstances. The internal process of discovering happiness and contentment in Jesus requires a willingness to be taught. George Santayana (1863-1952) writes, “There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.” The path you are walking is the interval between your birth and death. Where is the path you are walking taking you? Advent is about seeking the Lord in the light of the Lord, not the external circumstances of life. Anger, hate, or fear should not determine one’s state of happiness and contentment. External circumstances such as being wronged, hurt, or betrayed by someone do not have ultimate determinative value on your life. Self-will, ego centeredness, and arrogance also hinder the internal work of knowing Jesus and experiencing his unconditional love. Only Jesus Christ can fulfill the search for happiness and contentment.
The Christian doctrines of salvation and sovereignty are instructive in seeking Jesus to experience happiness and contentment. No matter how hard we try to save ourselves and direct our destinies, we will always come up short. Only God’s ways lead to Zion. Happy and content people use trials as growth opportunities, cultivate optimism, focus on the present, practice forgiveness, practice generosity, nurture relationships, express gratitude, care for their bodies, and care for their souls. Isaiah paints a vivid picture through words of God’s salvation and sovereignty. In this picture, we “see the Word.” As we discover God in Jesus Christ, we see God work in and through external circumstances. Isaiah 2:5 reads, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” Noel Leo Erskine, Professor of Theology and Ethics at Candler School of Theology writes, “Without God’s promise as basis and ground of hope, the future is bound to be a repetition of the past.”
Celebrate Advent. Utilize its promise of peace to instill hope as you seek happiness and contentment in the Christ child. Being happy and content will bring peace to the exteriority of your life by which others will be blessed.
Martin Thielen, Searching For Happiness (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 2-3.
George Santayana, “War Shrines,” Soliloquies in England and later Soliloquies, 1922.
The characteristics and practices of happy and content people gleaned from Martin Thielen, Searching For Happiness, 17.
Noel Leo Erskine in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 4.