Dante Alighieri, simply known by us as Dante, was a major Italian poet of the Middle Ages. In his classic epic poem, The Divine Comedy, he has these words inscribed over the gates of Hell: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. The damned, those who will live forever in hell, live with no hope whatsoever. They live in utter powerlessness, devoid of the power and ability to make any decisions at all. All they can do is suffer; all they can do is live in agony. They are in hell forever without end, totally immobilized and powerless.
While we live here on earth hope is the power found in all our decisions. Hope is the power behind all of our actions. Every decision we make is based on hope. We live in hope, we love in hope, and we make all of our choices in hope. Those who commit suicide have, for whatever reasons, lost all hope. They feel that they are powerless. Of course they are wrong. Why? Because as long we have life we can have hope.
Today and throughout Advent the Church takes us back to those ages in which people lived in the hope that God would fulfill His promise to send us a Savior, a Redeemer who would give us the power to escape the clutches of hell. The Old Testament contains 65 prophesies about God’s promised Messiah, the Savior He would send us. Because of our Savior we would no longer be doomed to live apart from God in hell. Our Redeemer’s power would be available to us. In Him we could escape hell’s eternal hopelessness and unending agony… all because we could live in the power of His hope, the power that would infuse all of our thoughts, our choices, and our actions. We didn’t deserve a Redeemer. Our Savior is God’s gift to us in His promise to us. Because of Jesus Christ we can have hope.
The virtue of hope, the power of hope is found in the expectation of and desire for receiving the one thing that is pervasive in everything, namely refraining from despair and realizing our God given capability of not giving up. Hope is based on the belief that God will be eternally present in every human’s life and offers us the power to never give up on His love.
There are many types of hopes and dreams we humans all have, hopes for good grades in courses of study, hopes for job offerings or promotions, hopes for our football teams’ victories, hopes we have when we fall in love, hopes for love, and all sorts of other hopes. Many of our hopes have been little more than wishful thinking, wishes that are many times unrealistic. The hope of Advent is not our common everyday hope for this, or that, or the other thing. It is the fundamental hope we have in God’s promise that He will come to us to shepherd us, console us, and comfort us. It is a hope that will not disappoint because God cannot and will not go back on His promise. What a comfort that is! It is the comfort that Isaiah offers when he cries out:
Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated… A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Go up on to a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.
We have a powerful hope and a deep comfort because of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. God has acted and is acting in His own time and according to His own schedule, not ours. Many of us, perhaps all of us, have had our deep disappointments because our own hopes have not been met. But they are hopes that are everyday hopes, worldly hopes, hopes that often disappoint. Advent puts us in touch with a hope that will not disappoint. Our hope is in the promise of God, a promise that was fulfilled in Jesus Christ who suffered, died, rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of His Father in heaven, His Father and ours because of Him. That same hope is the hope of martyrs, saints and those we know in our own lives who, because that hope, have not been vanquished by disappointments and who have not been vanquished by evils that have been heaped on them by the Evil One who seeks to tear us away from the Source of all hope, our God in heaven. No greater comfort could be offered to us.
There is one essential element on our part. While it is true that God has given us His promise of a Savior, God’s offer will avail us nothing if we do not respond. As in all love relationships there is an offer and there is a response. God offers; we respond. Take an example from our schooling experience. If you don’t study, if you don’t read the prescribed material, if you don’t attend the classes, and don’t pay much attention to the teacher your hope for a good grade is based simply on wishful thinking.
The same is true in our relationship with God. If we don’t give our spiritual life much time or attention and don’t bother to be faithful in coming to Mass, if they way you treat your loved ones and other people is based only on your self-centeredness then your hope for heaven is based only on wishful thinking. God offers; we respond and if we don’t care then why should God care?
Today’s Gospel account reports that: John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. They knew that God cared. They had hope.
On this second Sunday of Advent as we prepare to celebrate our Savior’s birth perhaps it would be a good thing to take an honest look at what we are hoping for based on our responses to God’s offer to us. God loves us and is waiting for us to respond to His love. Because of that we can be comforted in a sure and certain hope.