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LETTER: Difference between optimism and hope

December 25th, 2016 10:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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SIR – This year the seasons appear to have merged. Not too long ago winters seemed to be more or less as they used to be, cold and icy. Summers were sunny, if not hot – even in Ireland. 

Spring was a time when what had lain dormant since autumn would begin to wake, bud, blossom and bloom. There was a distinct visible rhythm to the year, which is not as discernable now as it once was. 

There is, however, an assured rhythm to the church year when we celebrate Passiontide, Easter, Pentecost, Harvest, and then Advent, which leads to Christmas itself and the hope that was found lying in a manger.

In a lecture last month, I contrasted the difference between optimism and hope by paraphrasing the German theologian, Jürgen Moltmann: Optimism is the unfolding of what is already here and what is likely to happen in the future. 

Hope, on the other hand, has to do with good things in the future that come from ‘outside’, from God. The future associated with hope is a gift of something new. It was such a gift that the Angel of the Lord proclaimed to the shepherds that first Christmas night. 

As the Apostle Peter later wrote, ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’ Those ragged, joyful men did just that.

This year, during the recent presidential campaign in the United States, voters were faced with claims and counterclaims, as feelings were presented as facts that went beyond truth in our Post-Truth society. ‘Fact-checking,’ the need to investigate what we are being told in order to verify what is right and wrong – a recent phenomenon that is also on the rise in Ireland and the UK – has become a sad, but necessary development in public life.

Peter faced gospel critics and unbelievers without the need of ‘fact-checking.’ He was a literal witness and we have his personal testimony. I too am a witness to the grace and power of the Lord Jesus in my life.

While the true meaning of Christmas is often overlooked through the merging of the seasons in our Post-Truth world, it is my prayer that you will discover the Saviour who was born, lived, died and was raised again at the centre of this hope-filled story.

At this special time, I wish you a very happy Christmas. 

Rt Rev Dr Frank Sellar, 

Moderator of the

Presbyterian Church 

in Ireland, Belfast.

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