Two days after I wrote about hope last week, I joined my family at the Veteran’s Day ceremony at the Coast Guard base in Port Angeles. My dad was stationed there from 1966 to 1970. I love being able to see him receive honor along with all the other men and women who have served in the past, are currently serving, or who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. It’s a very inspiring and touching experience.
I left that day with the words of hope still fresh in my mind but also contemplating sacrifice. I kept asking myself, “Why is it that greatness seems to require sacrifice?” I also wanted to know why it seems as if God has built sacrifice into our lives as something we must experience in order to accomplish dreams and goals. As I prayed and asked God about this, He brought to my attention that hope and sacrifice are intrinsically linked. This revelation became clear as I realized I have never had anyone inspire hope in me who decided to play it safe or take the easy way out – in other words, never sacrificed.
You may be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute. I’ve heard plenty of things that have caused me to hope that don’t involve sacrifice. What about the rich guy who paid off all the layaway items at Wal-Mart last Christmas? That renewed my hope in humanity.” My question to you: Is that really hope you are feeling, or just a bit of joy that those people will have a great Christmas? I’m not trying to downplay this kind act, but when you are falling on hard times, are you going to be thinking of that man who bought a bunch of gifts for strangers, or will you focus on someone who has been through what you are going through and made it to the other side? Maybe even someone who gave their life so you can have freedom? My guess is the latter.
If it’s true that hope and sacrifice go hand in hand, I wanted to know if one came first or if they have both existed together from the beginning. If you think about it, they feed a perpetual cycle. Let’s use our honored Veterans for example. The sacrifice they made instills hope for our future. That hope will lead to future generations making the same sacrifice, and on goes the cycle. It only works when someone who has gone before you starts the cycle. So what came first, sacrifice or hope? The answer is both. It’s like the first law of thermodynamics which states that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. Essentially all the energy that exists has been there from the beginning of time, and we just transform it from one form to the other. So who set this in motion? Who is that someone who has gone before us? Who is the one who has existed from the beginning of time that embodies both hope and sacrifice? His name is Jesus. He set the cycle in motion from both sides. If we think on the sacrifice he made for us, feelings of hope follow. Or perhaps we are more likely to respond to the hope found in Jesus first. This includes God’s promises we spoke of a few weeks ago and the fact that Jesus came for us! Either way, the cycle begins. It leads to us wanting to make sacrifices for God and others. Men and women then become willing to die in order for future generations to see the fulfillment of their original hopes and dreams.
Listen to John 1:3-4, “Through him (Jesus) all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” The light of men is hope.
Later we read in verse 29, “John (the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” The lamb symbolizes sacrifice.
Jesus is the only sinless, perfect being ever to be alive. Fully God and fully man. This mystery enables him to be both hope and sacrifice at once. He is the only one capable of doing this, and therefore is the catalyst that set the relationship between the two in motion from the beginning. It’s like the chicken and egg conundrum. Which came first? Did hope or sacrifice come first? The answer is both in the form of Jesus.
Although this all may be true, in my experience and what I was sensing at the Veteran’s day ceremony is that sacrifice typically comes first for us humans to elicit hope, not the other way around. That’s why we well up in tears as we watch movies of an underdog overcoming massive obstacles to succeed. Therefore, I’m specifically writing this message from the perspective of sacrifice inspiring hope. It’s for those facing difficult situations that may be on the cusp of enormous sacrifice.
As we begin to understand this dynamic, there is one missing ingredient that we haven’t discussed yet…willingness. It is the key. What inspires hope in the midst of sacrifice is the willingness to put it all on the line knowing you may experience the worst outcome. This is the essence of bravery. Christ asked that the cup of suffering pass from him, but he was willing to go to the cross if it was God’s will (Mark 14:36). We rightly honor many service men and women who have never seen battle because of their willingness to be placed in harm’s way if it’s required. No one wants to get cancer or experience bankruptcy, but it will be our willingness to engage in the battle, get back up, and keep fighting that will inspire hope in our families. Those that give up will compromise their legacy and run the risk of instilling fear and hopelessness instead. Our fight may end in the ultimate sacrifice, like many before us, but it will be our willingness that will be remembered.
God’s love and mysteries abound, and we should never stop trying to understand them. Because His ways are infinite, I certainly realize that hope can spring from things other than sacrifice too. I mentioned last week that we can cultivate hope by thinking on God’s goodness, His miracles, and the testimonies of others who have experienced His touch. This is yet another facet of God, and I’m thankful for that. But what rang true for me this week as the sound of “Taps” echoed from the trumpets, was that He can take a seemingly desperate situation, add a person willing to walk through it, and the result is hope for those watching. This includes a person, a family, or even a nation. It’s exactly what Jesus did. We can never predict when or where the valley of sacrifice will come, but we can predict with 100% accuracy what will come out of it if we walk through with bravery.