When in Doubt…

Posted by Chris.Arends on December 24, 2020

By Frank Lewis

One of the great things about growing up as a member of 2nd Presbyterian Church in Bloomington Illinois was that we were a short two-hour drive from McCormick Seminary in Chicago.   This meant that we received a regular rotation of interns and associate pastors who brought to the youth program, a myriad of insights and perspectives.   And from that experience, I received a piece of advice that I have relied upon time and time again:   When in doubt, go back to the Greek.

I have struggled mightily with Advent this year and for a whole host of reasons.  Most of which you would assume correctly, relate back to any one of the pandemic-associated “challenges du jour” that we have learned to live with this year.    So, I’ll confess to feeling horribly unprepared to write anything, about any aspect of Advent or Christmas for that matter.   So, you guessed it – we’re going back to the Greek.

Peace.  Thanks in large part to the work of the Roman army, in the New Testament, peace was often defined as the absence of war.  Similarly, peace so often in modern times is almost always connected to the absence of something.   No more anger; no more hostility; no more divisiveness, no more rioting; and yes, no more war.     

But in order to fully understand the word peace in the Ancient Greek (Eirene) it needs to be taken in context with its derivative verbs (to reconcile; to make peace, to be at peace).  Peace in the Ancient Greek wasn’t so much about the absence of something but the act of doing something to bring peace into existence (Arichea Jr., 1987).   My prayer this Advent season, is that we find the peace of Advent to be not so much about an absence of something unwanted, but the very presence of something earnestly sought after; something that inspires, empowers and motivates us to make peace happen.

Hope.   Hope can be taken in so many ways.  On Sunday afternoons, my wife hopes that the Cowboys will win.   I, on the other hand, hope that the Bears will win.  And when the Bears play the Cowboys, well, it’s just not a happy home for at least 3-4 hours.   Further, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard corporate leaders and strategists alike quip that “hope is not a strategy”.  It is at that point, that I usually start checking email.   As an aside (since we’re talking about Ancient Greek), hope has many variants in Hebrew, but my favorite is “tiquah”.   The root of tiquah literally means cordage, or rope.   In this sense, hope is something that literally binds us together as a community of faith.   Likewise, there are several derivatives of hope in Ancient Greek.   The one that resonates with me is “elpis” – the root of which, “elpo”, means to anticipate, and generally, to anticipate with pleasure.  As a noun it means a favorable expectation   In the New Testament elpis was used in connection with the unseen future and was quite often used by Paul to describe an expectation of a joyful outcome.   My prayer this Advent season is that we would all remember that hope is not some esoteric concept – but a very real, binding, connecting, common thread – that reminds us to look with great expectant joy, for a baby in a manger.  

Joy.   In the interest of full disclosure – my initial idea for this blog focused exclusively on joy.   While preparing the original draft, I found that the Greek word for joy (chara) shares the same root with the word for grace (charis).  And, if you’re like me – you’ll view the odds of that being a pure coincidence to be absolute zero.  So, from the Greek perspective, it might be said that you literally cannot have joy without grace, and that you cannot have grace without joy.   Need I say more?   My prayer this Advent is that we set aside the material and the mundane, and experience both grace and joy anew.

Love.  In the Ancient Greek, agapao means to love unconditionally.  I prefer the verb over the noun, as I am overwhelmed this Advent with a sense of needing to do more.  So much has happened this year that demands not just our attention, but action.   And it will be the same next year, and the next, and so forth.   There is a hymn that I learned as a teen (you guessed it – at church camp) entitled “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love”.    The original text to this hymn was written by Peter Scholtes, a Catholic priest serving in Chicago in the 1960s.   The inspiration for the hymn was the civil rights movement and the social justice issues that were afoot within his parish and the country at the time.   In closing, I’ll simply quote the verse that I find most appropriate for an example of agapao.   

We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news
That God is in our land

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

My prayer this Advent season, is that we all find peace, hope, joy and love in such abundance, that we cannot help but walk, work, and love in a manner worthy of our calling.

Merry Christmas

Frank Lewis

December 23, 2020



Arichea Jr., D. C. (1987, April 1). Peace in the New Testament. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/026009438703800201?journalCode=tbtd



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