If Advent is about anything it is about one word: Hope. Bishop Sheen reminds us that “because God has entered our physical world in the person of Jesus, nothing in our human experience is beyond hope.” That means everything is redeemable. Every soul can be saved. Everyone is salvageable. Nothing is beyond the power of hope. No person is beyond the power of hope.
When you think about it, hope is that cardinal virtue which separates us from the animal kingdom and from all else God has created. To think about the future, plan for the future, anticipate something more than now and today. Why do so many people buy lottery tickets? Because they hope for something more. So fundamental is hope that humans can literally not live without hope. Take away hope and we give up—we die. Recently I visited the concentration camp at Dachau. It was the Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl who wrote in “Man’s Search for Meaning” about those who lost hope in the Nazi concentration camps. They would roll up in a corner and die. No physical ailments. They just lost all hope; and without hope—we die. For our Jewish ancestors, Hanukkah is the commemoration of those Jews who did not give up hope when their Temple was desecrated by invaders who sought to obliterate God and their faith. The candles of the menorah are the sign to us of those who did not give up hope. The candles of the Advent Wreath are the sign that we continue in hope.
We hope for ambition, power, family, cures, vacation, health, success, or to see again a deceased parent or lost child. We hope. Without hope, death wins, despair wins and the darkness swallows the light. Hope is exclusively human. And hope is limitless.
Innumerable times I have been with people as they stand at the threshold of death. Often they are afraid or agitated. And then I ask the question: “Whom do you wish to see first?” They blink and then they look at me and tell me that one person whom they hope to see. “My mother.” “My son.” “My wife.” And then a physical transformation of great peace always overcomes them. I’ve seen it countless times. It is called hope.
It is called Advent.