This weekend marks the first Sunday of Advent, when we traditionally reflect upon hope. It’s a strange time in history to be hopeful. Many people are in the grips of fear and despair; politically for sure, but also personally. Constantino and I wrote earlier in the week about the fear many of our friends are feeling in a world that seems increasingly hostile toward them and divided in its values. How do we celebrate Advent, a season of hopefulness and anticipation, when there seems to be so much hopelessness and grief?
What helps me understand hope in the midst of fear is the idea that hope and fear are the two sides of the same coin. Hope is a desire that something come to pass; fear is a desire that something does not come to pass. Fear is our hope unrealized. It is impossible, then, to detach fear from hope. When we are caught in the grip of fear, it is in part because we hope.
This coin of desire—hope on one side, fear on the other—reminds us that we are human. How much better is it that we fear the loss of something than to have no desire at all? My fears—for our personal finances, for the state of injustice for the LGBTQ community and people of color, for war and political instability in the Middle East and beyond—remind me that I do hope. These fears are really hopes inverted: hopes for security, justice, and peace.
In a reflection for this Advent season, Fr. Joseph Muth, pastor of St. Matthew Catholic Church in Baltimore, MD, reminds us that hope is not always a future desire. Our hope can be for now:
Even though the Advent themes of waiting and hoping are prevalent, this week’s readings all have a certain urgency to them, almost as if to say, “We can’t wait any longer.” Refugees, immigrants, women and men on death row, members of the LGBT community, and people living on violent streets or in violent countries all understand this. They too, cry out, “We can’t wait any longer!” Justice and mercy are now.
In Thomas Merton’s Seasons of Celebration, he reminds us that hope is not inherently a feel-good emotion. In fact, essential to hope are seasons of fear, seasons in which we wonder if our hopes will never be realized:
The certainty of Christian hope lies beyond passion and beyond knowledge. Therefore we must sometime expect our hope to come into conflict with darkness, desperation, and ignorance. Therefore, too, we must remember that Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria, an indefectible comfort in whose presence neither anguish nor tragedy can possibly exist. We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the mere suppression of tragic realities. Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy: a victory in which we pass beyond tragedy to glory with Christ crucified and risen.
A season permeated by fear, then, seems to me perfectly appropriate for the Advent season. It’s an honest and legitimate feeling as we face a future of unknowns. What better time than Advent to reflect upon what we want for ourselves, our country, and this world? But let us not be consumed by fear; rather, let us remember that the trajectory of the universe’s story is ultimately toward a hope fulfilled.
Merton reminds us that “our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be.” A fallen or broken world does not mean that Christ is not present in it. Nor does it suggest that the world has somehow fallen off course. No war, no election, no family strife can thwart God’s plan or His will. That, to me, is the most hopeful message imaginable.
David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland.
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