THE story of Pandora’s box, as recounted by the Greek poet Hesiod, seems to have found new resonance in 2020.

In Greek mythology, Zeus gives a box to Pandora telling her not to open it. Pandora – unable to contain her curiosity – opens the box and so releases sickness, death and other sufferings into the world.

She manages to close the box before Hope can escape.

Some interpreters of the myth hold that the retention of hope points to its remaining constancy in the face of suffering while others – such as the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche – interpret the story negatively arguing that Hope “is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment”.

I’ve never been a fan of Nietzsche and the events of this week provide at least three reasons for hope and unbridled cheer.

The news of the Oxford vaccine alongside the forthcoming lifting of the lockdown and the prospect of families being able to see one another at Christmas are all grounds for hope and an upturn in a year that seems to have brought with it no end of suffering and challenge.

Yet each of these pieces of good news seem to come with caveats – vaccines yet to be ruled safe on the basis of full data, the lifting of the lockdown to be accompanied by stricter tiers and the risks of Christmas gatherings leading to increased peaks of infection. Nietzche’s case for torment seems to take hold if our optimism is rooted in Hope which is either shifting or temporary.

But there are Hopes which endure.

This Sunday is Advent Sunday, the beginning of the season rooted in Hope and expectation of what is to come. The first of the five candles lit which are lit weekly ahead of Christmas Day is the candle Hope, a reminder of the promises of God made to the nation of Israel of the Christ who would come, as God takes Human flesh and enters into human history. The candle of Hope is a reminder not only that God keeps his promises but a further promise of what is to come.

As the Methodist pastor Walter Wink wrote: “Hope imagines the future and acts as if that hope is irresistible.”

That hope is rooted in the belief articulated in the opening words of John’s Gospel – traditionally used as a Christmas Day text – that reminds us that in Jesus the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Advent serves as a reminder that in the midst of the glitter and the glitz, Christmas is not all about feeling cheerful, or pretending we’re not hurt or afraid.

Rather Christmas is about hope, about recognising that even the deepest darkness is no longer impenetrable because the light has come. Light is the first notes of the trumpets of salvation, the light will prevail, the darkness will be quenched.

We can say, even when we don’t feel it, that hope has come to us.

Friedrich Nietzsche got it all wrong. Christian hope is bigger and better than we can begin to conceive. And in this time of Advent, the season of hope, we come close to catching a glimpse.

L The Reverend Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas’ Church in Durham