This weekend we begin the season of Advent. Advent is a time for hope. We all need Hope: in a time of pandemic and political divisions, hope, it seems, is needed more than ever.
Advent is a time for hope and promise. We need hope, fundamentally because we live in an imperfect world and divided world. Hope moves us past this imperfection. Hope is a vital part of human life. Hope is to the human spirit what food is to the human body.
Now to be clear, hope is not some kind of vague optimism. Hope doesn’t mean sitting back and expecting things to happen. Hope is more than a generally good feeling, hope spurs us on to action, drives us forward. Hope motivates us to build a better world. An important cousin, if you like, of hope is waiting. The process of waiting helps us to build hope. Hope and waiting go together and are important aspects of our Advent journey. In fact, waiting too, is an important part of life. Waiting builds expectation and desire, waiting heightens awareness. When we wait, we slow down, we notice things, we can get our priorities right and focus on the right things as well as getting rid of those things which are not helpful to us.
Waiting builds hope and hope spurs us onward to action. It is precisely because we have hope that we can work so hard to change things. We believe our efforts are worthwhile, that the waiting is worth it, that we can make a difference. Our strength, our commitment, depends to a great extent on the degree and quality of our hope. If we do not have hope, then we tend to give up.
So, if hope is not the same as optimism what is it? Well, Hope, Christian hope is a gift it’s something given to us from God that perfects us as human beings. Hope is essential for the Christian life – in fact, Pope Francis says, our salvation depends on the quality of our hope! It depends on it because hope is the trust that God will fulfill the promises, he has made to us. Our hope is not in a political ideology or a vague notion of a better world, our hope has a face, our hope is a person, our hope is Jesus Christ. Our trust is the God who comes to save us and transform our lives. Christian hope is founded on the God who enters our mess and raises us up.
This season of Advent is a season of hope which expresses in symbol and ritual important and profound truths of the Christian life. In advent we hope and we wait, we hope for the Lord to come and we do so in a three-fold way. Firstly, we hope for the second coming of Christ. The first Christians lived in this expectant hope, a hope that meant that Jesus might return at any moment - this hope created an urgency in their living out of the gospel, they did not hang about, but lived life to the full and shared the gospel message to all whom they met. We need this hope as well, this kind of hope wake us up and make us work for the gospel.
Secondly, we hope and wait to celebrate the first coming of Christ 2000 years ago. We prepare ourselves to receive the Christ child who made himself so small as to be born in the poverty of a stable. The God of the universe became a baby for us so that we could know and love him the way that he knows and loves us – this is an awesome mystery - that the God who created the universe, the God who keeps all things in being the Eternal and infinite God burst into our world to act out the drama of our salvation. This is a beautiful truth – we have hope because we can have a real and lasting friendship with the author of hope – Jesus Christ.
Finally, Advent, has a third and often overlooked dimension. As we wait for Christ who is to come, and as we prepare to celebrate the Christ who came 2000 years ago, our spiritual senses are, as it were, heightened and we are alerted to the daily coming of Christ. The Christ who stands at the door of our hearts and knocks, each moment of each day, waiting for us to let him in and enter into a deeper more beautiful, more lifechanging friendship with him. Advent alerts us to the daily presence of the God who makes himself small so that he can raise us up.
Advent this year looks very different for most of us. Our worlds have been turned upside down by the coronavirus and the traditional reference points of living have been stripped away. This advent there will be few if any, carol services, nativity plays and the usual Christmas preparations will be, this year, very unusual. Yet in all of this we are still invited, challenged to rediscover those things which are essential, those things which are good and lasting. In this advent time, it our duty and our joy as Christians to live as a people of hope. It is our task to keep hope alive and set an example by the hopefulness of our lives. Our hope transforms us, our hope makes us a new people - Christians are to be a people of hope. we do this by living the gospel message, by loving our neighbour as ourselves, by pointing with every fibre of our being to the Christ, to the light of the world, to the hope which chases away fears and helps us to become evermore the people that God has created us to be. As Christians we are reminded that this world will never fulfil our deepest hopes only God can do that. Meanwhile we live in this realm of hope - a hope which enables us to keep one foot in the world as it is and the other in the world as it should be, a hope that helps bursts through into the brokenness of our lives and makes into agents of God’s Kingdom. As Christians we are to build hope, build unity and communion, build justice and peace in our lives and in the lives of all around us. In the words of the liturgy we are called to “Wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”