by Mark Hertenstein
Advent is the season of hope. Although Advent is a season in the Church year, it is the beginning and end of the Church year all in one. While it is the time in which we look back with the ancients for the coming of the Messiah, it is, as importantly, a time to look forward to the second coming of Christ, to the Kingdom, to eternity. The hope of Christ’s coming that was realized almost two millennia ago grounds our hope for the future. And because it pervades the year, we can speak of any event of the Church year in relation to Advent and the hope that it represents.
Where so many go wrong in their conception of hope is that they presume it is like a dream, something that would be nice if it could happen, something almost delusional. But this is plainly wrong. Hope, especially Christian hope, is not some stale dream from which we wake when we return to the real world.
Hope is more than a vision of the future; it is a desire, a driving force. To be human is to live in hope. We all, even materialists, envision a better world. What we may or may not realize is that hope drives our actions. Hope is the impetus for creating that better world. Hope is not just a feeling, but an act. It is not withdrawn from the world, but radically transforming the world.
To be without hope is to despair, to give up on the future, to lose the ability to press on. We will all lose hope at some point. This is when Christian hope fully flourishes. It presses on in spite of the world. It hopes beyond all hope. It hopes against despair.
Jürgen Moltmann, citing Albert Camus, describes Christ on the cross as in the state of despair. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” In that moment, Christ echoes all men who have ever lived. But the power and the depth of Christ and His Love are wrapped up in that paradoxical statement. He still calls out to the Father. Even as He despairs of the Father and the Father’s Love, the Son hopes, the Son cries out. That hope would be ratified three days later, on Easter morning, and would provide the impetus for the new hope of humanity- the coming of the Kingdom of God.
The very nature of man, especially the Christian, is to hope. When man loses hope, man loses his humanity. And that is why despair is so destructive- it eventually divests man of his humanity. And that is why man is called to hope in spite of despair- because it restores man’s humanity and transforms the present world of despair and loss into a world of love and communion. That is the transforming power of hope in Christ. Again, hope is not a mere dream, but an act that is restorative and transforming when it clings in faith to Jesus Christ.
No one can hope and not act. Hope transforms the world. History recognizes this: St. Paul, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Archbishop Romero suffered on account of their actions in hope. No one would say that they have failed though. Their work in hope was realized in the liberation and transformation they brought about or for which they prepared the way. They did it by radical pacifism, a resolute stand in a time of upheaval or opposition, and a preferential option for the poor.
The three theological virtues are faith, hope, and love. But hope is the unifying factor between faith and love, and provides purpose. Faith does not sit idle. Love is not sedentary. Hope, though certainly informed by faith, gives direction and purpose to Christian life. Faith transforms man. Love is the means by which man interacts and his communal nature is restored. Hope, seeing the future “through a glass darkly,” transforms the present with faith and love into the future that it envisions, if for nothing else by preparing the way.
That hope is what drives us at all times, especially during Advent. We hope against despair. We hope in spite of the world. We act against the world and transform it, through hope, in such a way that we prepare the way of the Lord and bring about the Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.