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The Hope of Advent

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There is a common image many people share the night before Christmas. A little child goes to bed on Christmas Eve with the excitement of what Santa will bring on Christmas Day — a child with a sense of wonder and awe of what may happen in the morning. It is this excitement that is stored in the child’s memory for years to come. It is the beginning of wonder and awe building our hopes as we anticipate something great.

The word “advent” means an anticipation of the arrival of a person or an event. Advent is the season that reminds us of an arrival of something great. As a season in the Church, it is placed at the beginning of the Church year. It is the beginning of a new spiritual journey for each of us. We are reminded once again that the promise God made about our salvation has come. This promise is the true hope beyond any other hope we have. We build our traditions around this time to remind us of that great mystery of Christ’s coming for our salvation.

Anticipation of Jesus

Since the season of Advent is about hope, what is our understanding of this gift? To hope in something is to have an anticipation that something new is about to happen. It is a desire with an expectation of obtaining something more. There are different levels of hope we experience throughout our life. Hope touches our desires, and our desires grow and change. The little child before Christmas has a basic desire that is different than, say, a desire for a job promotion or a raise. A young couple about to get married has the hope of so many possibilities and dreams.

There is the excitement of the unknown when we are about to make a decision in our life. From a spiritual place, we can desire to grow deeper in our relationship with God. All of these desires are an expectation of obtaining something. One of the common experiences of hope is that it is dependent on someone or something else. All of these desires can be filled with an excitement and anticipation. But what happens when over time that sense of hope grows dim? What happens when the one we depend on to make this hope come alive doesn’t come through for us? This is a reality of life.

Fighting Discouragement

This dependence can be filled with limitations or disappointments. We can tire of waiting. In our spiritual life, we can stop praying when we feel our prayer is not being heard. The Israelites seemed to continually become impatient with Moses and God. They grew tired of waiting, despite all God had done for them. Instead, they chose to worship a molten calf ( see Ex 32:1-11). The disciples of Jesus lost a sense of hope in him when he spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood (Jn 6:51-66). This becomes too much for them to comprehend, and they turn away from all they hoped for and wonder if this really is the one who is to come. For the disciples and Israelites, their disappointment became greater than their hope.

We are not much different than many of those who have gone before us. The waiting can cause us to lose hope. We can forget and become discouraged when that hope grows dim. It is not difficult to fall into a mode of settling. The place of settling is when the future grows dim and we begin to believe all we have is our present situation. How often we hear, “Well, that’s as good as it gets,” or, “That’s the way it is.” How sad that our memory can fade — the memories that once were filled with awe and wonder. When we settle, we can become cynical and even hopeless. A fire that once burned inside us flickers out.

Sundays of Advent

The season of Advent is meant to give us that time to help us slow things down and remember. Each year, we can begin anew, remembering once again the hope that was promised to us. As we follow the readings during Advent, we hear the development of hope.

The First Sunday of Advent, we are reminded not to live in a place of settling but to live in a place of being awake and aware. If we are living in anticipation of something more, we don’t need to know the time nor the hour, because we are living in the place of hope. We are reminded to live in hope, not in complacency.

The Second Sunday, John the Baptist reminds the Jews not to presume or rely on the fact that they are ancestors of Abraham but to repent from their ways so they will be prepared for Christ who will come to baptize in the Spirit, the reality of hope.

The Third Sunday, Jesus gives an answer to John the Baptist’s question of, “Are you the one who is to come?” Jesus tells the disciples to let John the Baptist know who he is by what he brings: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise and, most important, the poor have the Good News brought to them.

The Fourth Sunday reveals to us the message that has been revealed through Joseph: the message that Mary is to bring the promised one into the world to save us from our sins. These readings are given to us to remember what God has promised.

Time to Remember

The hope that comes to us from Advent is a hope that is beyond all other hopes. It is not just an anticipation of something to come but one that goes beyond all our hopes and desires. In 1985, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI) wrote that hope is built on memory: “Advent is concerned with the very connection between memory and hope.”

This is not just hope, but it is an Advent hope. It is the truth and expectation that God is working in our life now, in our present moment. It is a promise that what we hope for in his name is obtainable. It is a time to remember that the salvation God promised throughout all of history has already come, and we live in the hope of that salvation. We cannot settle for just the way things are, but must live in the awe and wonder of the memory of God’s promise.

Father Vincent Fortunato is a Capuchin Franciscan priest. He lives in Wilmington, Delaware. He teaches spiritual direction and preaches parish missions and retreats for priests.