Advent is the season of expectation and hope. We look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus, an event that happened in the past, to renew our hope that the presence of God among us in human form will transform our lives. The example of Jesus’ earthly life should rub off on enough people for some things to get better but every year the setbacks are discouraging. We also look forward to the consummation of God’s Kingship when setbacks will be no more and there will be no more need for hope.
Hope is a virtue needed only when the present is problematic and all the more so when the present is filled with pain and anxiety. It is when things are bad that we hope things will be better. If things get better, there is less to hope for, but more to appreciate. Appreciation, gratitude, is key here. We need to be profoundly grateful for the life Jesus led here on earth. We also need to be grateful for all the constructive work that has been done and is being done in the spirit of Christ, whether known by the doer or not.
This year, the biggest anxiety is the COVID-19 pandemic. It combines three of the traditional Advent themes: death, judgment, and hell. Death: many people die of the disease, although thankfully at a lesser rate than at the beginning of the pandemic. Hell: hopefully temporal, but the sufferings of those with serious cases is said to be excruciating. Judgment: the disease in itself is a natural event and not a divine punishment for sin. However, the poor handling of the situation by some political leaders and numerous people (albeit a minority apparently) who rebel against the discipline of social distancing that could keep other people safer casts a judgment of our character as a society. Where is heaven in all this? We can hope that heaven is comforting those who suffered and died. More important, we see glimpses of heaven in the dedication of medics and workers who give so much of themselves to make things better.
The good news is that several vaccines are apparently coming down the pipeline that should be game changers. This is situation is a parable of hope for even deeper matters. We are currently in a painful fix that asks many onerous sacrifices of us but help is on the way. Not every human crisis offers us such a specific hope as this one does at the present time. At the same time, hope for deeper things would have us all probe deeper into our willingness to make sacrifices for the well-being of others. This is the hope generated by the life of Jesus who did whatever was needed for the sake of other people. This is the hope for the Kingship of God when our hearts will be so closely intertwined with the hearts of others that we will see clearly how the interests and needs of others are our own interests and needs.