Keeping Hope Alive: We Carry in Our Hearts the Expectation of the Nations
Some years ago I developed an idiosyncratic answer to the commonly used American greeting, “how’s it going?” This question is almost never asked seriously, as if we really expect to receive a report on the important issues of someone’s life. It’s just a way we have of saying hello and some form of it likely exists in almost any human language in our time. But at some point, instead of answering with the typical “just fine” or “it’s going alright”, I took to saying “keeping hope alive!” Perhaps it was just a way for me to prod others to move away from the standard small-talk, or, I don’t know….to elicit some sort of authentic reaction, to inject a bit of surprise into the otherwise mundane routine of thoughtless greeting. I took up to this phrase not only as a reply but as a way of saying goodbye. I haven’t done this for quite awhile, since I suppose this unorthodox greeting eventually seemed just as stale to me as anything else I might say. And that’s the way of everyday language, I suppose.
I do think back wryly, however, on this my small attempt at not being boring or conventional, because I think the interesting reactions I received had more to do with what precisely I said rather than simply that I said something unexpected. It’s as if the exhortation to “keep hope alive” struck a chord of recognition in people, as if they thought “that’s right! How can I live without hope?!”
Why do we need to live in hope? Because we know well that the happiness we seek is just what we’re seeking, not what we already possess. And the longer we’re alive on this earth the more heavily it weighs upon us that our happiness is just around some corner, just over some bend, but never in our hands. I’m a desiring and wishing being by nature. But I need more than mere wishes. Desire must lead to fulfillment or otherwise it is meaningless and life in this world can come to seem like a cruel joke played upon me by who else but God?
Christian faith unlocks the door that allows us to pass from mere wishing and desire and all the threatened disappointment that comes with it (the anxiety caused in me by the fear that my wishes won’t come true) to real, founded hope in a happiness that truly awaits me. Christian faith gives us evidence that God is not cold and aloof from us, that he has not given us the promise of some happiness that can never be fulfilled, but rather that he has come close to us, come among us as one of us, in order to show us a glimpse of what awaits, in order to show us that he has not left us alone but that he has involved himself in his creation so as to bring it to its proper fulfillment, the supernatural fulfillment of all the desiring and wishing that constitutes our nature and otherwise makes up our life on this earth.
This is the meaning of the Incarnation. In the season of Advent the Church invites us to begin again a journey of hope. Not mere irrational “wishing upon a star” but rational trust in the true Star of the Nations, the Star of Bethlehem. If we give ourselves to this beautiful season, we will find again the joy of living the journey of faith, the faith in the child of Bethlehem who makes us ready for the next world and gives us the power whereby we live well and joyfully in this one.
- Fr. Hagan