Hope is a thin and slippery thing, sorely tested and hard to come by in this culture. We have seen the social fabric of the country rent, not only by others but even by our own hands. We have sold violence and defended violence for years. We have cut back on social programs and increased our military spending on Neanderthal weaponry that wounds the national infrastructure and gives little or no security. We have substituted power for hope and found ourselves powerless. We feel hopeless.
But hope is not for easy times, Advent reminds us. Hope comes only when hope is gone, when our “hands are feeble” and our “knees are weak” over what is coming upon our worlds. Then hope and only hope reigns supreme.
Hope is not insane optimism in the face of palpable evil or dire circumstances. It is not the shallow attempt of well-meaning but facile friends to “cheer us up” in bad times. It’s not the irritating effort of ill-at-ease counselors who work to make us “reframe” our difficulties so that everyone around us will not have to deal with them, too. No, hope is not made of denial. Hope is made of memories.
Hope reminds us that there is nothing in life we have not faced that we did not, through God’s gifts and graces—however unrecognized at the time—survive. Hope is the recall of good in the past, on which we base our expectation of good in the future, however bad the present. It digs in the rubble of the heart for memory of God’s promise to bring good out of evil and joy out of sadness and, on the basis of those memories of the past, takes new hope for the future. Even in the face of death. Even in the fear of loss. Even when our own private little worlds go to dust, as sooner or later, they always do. Or as former Czech president Vaclav Havel put it: “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Advent calls us to hope in the promise that God is calling us to greater things and will be with us as we live them.