We live in a world of twilight, an in-between world, not fully light and not fully darkness. It is a time of struggle between darkness and light, between hope and despair. We see signs of the light everywhere and yet there is also a shadow which obscures the light and does not allow it to fully penetrate our being. We know that we are born to the light and yet we also discover the shadow within us that lingers on the edge of our awareness and taunts us with our weakness, our failures, our guilt, and the futility of our small efforts to rise above our passions. Sometimes it seems that there is no escape from the darkness. The darkness seems inevitable and no matter how much we resist and fight against it we are certain to fall into the darkness of night. Despair lures us into the deepest part of the night and bids us to make friends with the darkness. Temptation, sin and evil seem so overwhelming that resistance seems futile. Darkness and despair are a tyrant in our lives that robs us of our freedom, a bully waiting to ambush us, humiliate us and steal what little we have, a monster in the closet or under the bed just waiting for us to fall asleep in order to destroy us. It is here that the little child hope enters into our life.
Hope is the child that we are still waiting upon to grow to full maturity. Hope is a promise and a prophecy. Hope is innocent and untainted by the cynicism of the world. Hope is that which cannot fully be predicted for it erupts suddenly out of freedom. Hope is the moment right before despair when we wake up and realize that there are real possibilities for the future. Hope is the small hand of the child in the loving embrace of the Father. Hope is the truth dancing around playfully and unadorned before us. Hope is the light of dawn and of the new day having just been birthed pushing through the dark passage of despair. Advent is full of hope.
Our reading for Advent is full of the prophecies of Isaiah. Isaiah is a book written in the tension of the battle between hope and despair. During Advent we hear many of the beautiful prophecies of the messiah who is to come, of a restoration, of the birth of a faithful remnant, of the consolation that God promises us in times of darkness, of a new springtime of life in the desert, of a road that is carved out of the peaks and valleys of our experiences that is a holy way. It is in these readings and prophecies that hope is born. As beautiful as the readings are we must remember that they are responses to the darkness and despair of the failures, sins and infidelities of the people of Israel. Only in the tension between hope and despair do we experience the true joy of God who comes to rescue us from our own frail, human nature.
Hope shows its face in our readings today, “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?…Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old…Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” (Is 63,17f;64,4) Hope shines as a beacon of light against the darkness of the despair that the people of Israel face, “Behold, youare angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.” (Is 64,4f) Hope finally raises its hands up imploring to be swept up into the loving arms of the Father who has the strength to make all things new again, “Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” (Is 64,7) Hope allows us to rest in the way of the Lord God who will win victory over the darkness of despair, not through force and violence, but by gently working with his hands all of our failures and sins into the pattern of his will and purpose. In the light of hope we see that even our failures and sinfulness becomes a grace and can yet be molded into a worthy vessel of life.
Jesus leaves us with the admonition in the gospel of Mark, “May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mk 13,37) Hope waits and watches and does not give into the sleep of death and despair in the night but remains awake to the coming of the day of our vindication. Pope Benedict comments, “What is difficult is to wait, what is easy is to despair; this is the great temptation.” In fact, the great witness Christians can give to a world without hope is, precisely, “to have a reason for the hope that is in us.”