Our world seems a bit hopeless at the moment. I don't have to list the challenges and tragedies that so many are facing on a daily basis – we are all very aware of them. A hopeless world is a dying world. For our world to survive and flourish it needs hope, because hope brings life.
One of the reasons many of us are avid movie watchers is that Hollywood blockbusters often give us hope. They give us a sense that in the end the forces of evil will fail and the brave and good will triumph.
For the Jews in Palestine 2,000 years ago, it didn't seem as if there were many reasons to hope. Life was pretty tough. They hadn't heard from God for about 400 years. They waited and waited, wondering what had happened. Then a young woman gave birth to a baby and hope entered the world.
Hope is a powerful force. One of the most painful experiences of humanity, which I have seen both personally and professionally, is hopelessness. Life without hope has no future. But those who have hope believe in a better day coming and their lives are often shaped around that hope.
Hope is not just wishful thinking. It is the unshakeable faith that there is a future. In Hebrews 11:1 we read: 'Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.' Hope and faith go hand in hand. It is difficult to have hope without faith and difficult to have faith without hope.
Andrew Selous, the MP for South West Bedfordshire, said that: 'Christian hope is not optimism, but unshakeable faith in the future...In despair, we can have hope...Hope can transform societies we need a politics of hope.'
Hope in simple terms means the 'anticipation of good'.
Hope in God has been the foundation of the Jewish and Christian faith for thousands of years. Isaiah says (40:31) that 'those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength'. Jeremiah assures us that if we put our faith in God, we can have confidence to face the future.
Hope means looking forward and not being distracted by the present. Hope forces us to be patient, to trust and it strengthens our faith.
As Christians the hope we have isn't a film script. It's not just about what we'd like to do, like to be or would like to happen. The hope we have is the source of energy for us to live differently.
Christmas is a time for hope. For many years Christmas Day in our family has been anything but conventional. We have often been found at our local church cooking lunch, playing games and spending the day with lots of people who have nowhere else to go. For my three children, when they were younger, this was a huge sacrifice. My daughters didn't get to open their presents until Boxing Day.
When Boxing Day arrived they were are almost climbing the walls with excitement. The anticipation and hope on their faces was something I will always treasure. It was actually worth making them wait because they loved the anticipation, living in the hope of what's to come, almost as much as opening the presents themselves.
Hope brings life because hope helps us dream. Hope offers new experiences and reveals new possibilities. Hope not only helps us face difficult situations but believes change is possible.
Martin Luther King Jr said in his most iconic speech: 'If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.'
Hope is the death of fear. I imagine when Gabriel told Mary what was going to happen, she was probably more than a little terrified, but she knew her God, she knew who she had hope in and she knew that he would fulfil what he promised. I believe that hope gave her courage.
The hope we have as followers of Christ means we have an eternal destiny. Our hope means the future does not depend on what we think is possible now, but on what is possible for God. There was a young virgin, over 2,000 years ago, who discovered that nothing is impossible for God and the world was turned upside down. Our world needs that hope.
In this Advent season as we look forward to celebrating when hope entered the world my prayer is, 'May the God of hope fill each one of us with all joy and peace as we trust in him, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit' – because the best really is yet to come.
Mandy Bayton is The Cinnamon Network Advisor for Wales, a speaker and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @mandyebayton