The First Candle of Advent calls our attention to Hope.
It’s not right to call “Hope” illusory. But, as a matter of fact, Hope is a hard thing to nail down. It’s a motivating expectation. Farmers with their crops recently planted in the field hope that it will rain. Farmers wanting to harvest hope that it won’t. But, that kind of definition simply reduces hope to wishful thinking. Something as important as hope certainly is more than wishful thinking.
Without hope things get pretty dire. Dante, following Virgil, comes to the gate of Hell; over which are the dreadful words “All hope abandon, ye who enter here” and that wasn’t all of it. “Through me you pass into the city of woe: Through me you pass into eternal pain.” Dante wants us to understand that this place is reserved for those who had passed their time in a state of apathy and indifference. “All hope abandon, ye who enter here”
Having hope is the opposite of living with apathy and indifference. That well could be the best way to measure hope but I hope not. That would include sixty percent of the registered voters in Spokane County who didn’t vote in the recent general election. A greater number were without power after the windstorm than voted.
Monday I received an email that started “I hope you are feeling better. I heard you were sick with a virus”. Next she adds “I hope you and Susan have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!!” And then comes a phenomenal statement of hope: (I’ve changed the names because it would be wrong not too. ) She writes: “Harold and I are spending Thanksgiving with his ex-wife Hannah and his ex-father in law who is suffering from dementia. Hannah struggles with depression and physical issues and didn’t have anyone else, and since she and Harold get along very well, why not?” There is no indifference or apathy to good and evil in her heart. Let’s go spend Thanksgiving with your depressed and impaired ex wife and her demented father. And, against all reason, she hopes that everything will be a perfectly Happy Thanksgiving. Bless her heart.
In a time when people are living with indifference and apathy and finding reasons to hope is difficult we read in 1st Peter that those who choose to follow Christ are urged to ‘give to anyone who asks an account of the hope that is in them.” Maybe it’s context or syntax because the word ‘hope’ sounds like it resides in the future. But that’s not what we read in 1st Peter. The hope we find in our faith is rooted in the present. I like what Brother Roger of the Taize’ community had said about hope. He said the source of our hope is God, a God who simply loves us and can do nothing else, a God who never stops seeking us.
n the Hebrew Bible, that mysterious Source of life we call God makes God’s self known by calling us into relationship. Together we enter into a covenant. Our Scriptures define the characteristics of this covenant by translating the Hebrew words: hesed and emeth as “steadfast love” and “faithfulness.” They tell us, first of all, that God is overflowing goodness and kindness who wants to take care of his people and, second, that God will never abandon those he has called to enter into fellowship with him. That is the source of biblical hope. If God is good and his attitude never changes toward us nor forsakes us, then whatever difficulties may arise, if the world we know is far from justice, peace and compassion—for us this is not the definitive situation. From our faith in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness we live with the expectation of a world according to God’s will or, to put it a better way, according to God’s love.
In the Bible, this hope is often expressed by the notion of promise. We see this in the story of Abraham: “I will bless you,” God says to Abraham, “and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). A promise is a dynamic reality that opens new possibilities for human life. It looks toward the future, but it is rooted in a current relationship with the God who speaks to me here and now, who guides me in making specific choices in my life. The seeds of the future are found in a present relationship with God. This rootedness in the present is made even stronger with the coming of Christ’s Spirit. In him, says the Apostle Paul, all God’s promises are already a reality (2 Corinthians 1:20). Quakers have testified that “Christ has come to teach his people himself.” “I am with you always, until the end of the age” Jesus said in (Matthew 28:20). In Romans 5 Paul also wrote that “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”. Far from being a simple wish for the future with no guarantee that it will come about, our hope, what could be called Christian hope, is the presence of divine love in person, the Holy Spirit, a current of life that carries us to the ocean of the fullness of communion.
How can we root our lives in Christian hope? Biblical and Christian hope does not mean living in the clouds, dreaming of a better life. It is not merely a projection of what we would like to be or do someday. It leads us to discover seeds of a new world already present today, because of the identity of our God, because of the living presence of Christ. This hope is, in addition, a source of energy to live differently, not according to the values of a society based on the thirst for power, possession and competition.
In the Bible, the divine promise does not ask us to sit down and wait passively for it to come about, as if by magic. Before speaking to Abraham about the fullness of life offered to him, God says, “Leave your country and your home for the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). To enter into God’s promise, Abraham is called to make of his life a pilgrimage, to undergo a new beginning. Similarly, the good news of Pentecost is not a way of taking our minds off the tasks of life here and now, but a call to set out on the road. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? … Go into the entire world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation… You will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:11; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). Writing to the Christians of Rome, Paul speaks of the longing of creation and compares this suffering to the pangs of childbirth. Then he continues, “We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly” (Romans 8:18-23). Inspired by Christ’s Spirit we are called to live in deep unity with all humanity. Our faith is not a privilege that takes us out of the world; we “groan” with the world, sharing its pain, but we live this situation in hope, knowing that, in Christ, “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).
Hoping, then, means first of all discovering in the depths of the present a Life that leads forward and that nothing is able to stop. We are led to create signs of a different future here and now, in the midst of the darkness of the world, seeds of renewal that will bear fruit when the time comes. For the first Christians, the clearest sign of this new world to come was the existence of communities made up of people of different backgrounds and languages. Going beyond the divisions that kept people apart from one another. These men and women lived as brothers and sisters, as God’s family, praying together and sharing their possessions according to the needs of each person (cf. Acts 2:42-47). They strived to have “one and the same love, [being] united in spirit and focused on the same thing” (Philippians 2:2). In that way they shone out like points of light in the world (cf. Philippians 2:15). From the very beginning, Christian hope kindled a fire on the earth. Its call is to continue to stoke that fire.