I hope I get a Nintendo Switch for Christmas… I hope I get a hoverboard… I hope I get an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle…
When I was a boy, about nine or 10 years old, my sister and I longed for and hoped to get a horse. Our family had recently moved out to the country, we had a fairly large plot of land, and a couple of neighbors had horses of their own. My mother and father, either in a surfeit of parental indulgence or some rarely-equaled flight of domestic fancy, seriously entertained the idea: we visited stables, looked at and rode various horses, and my father drew up plans to build a small barn on our property. The longings of my sister and I were raised to something close to fever pitch.
We did not get a horse.
My sister and I were disappointed, indeed, even crushed for a time. But though I was disappointed, in my mind I had to admit that I was not completely surprised. In spite of the fervency of my longings, deep down I knew that getting a horse was a long shot. It was a bit too much to hope for.
It seems to me that we tend to treat our supernatural Hope in a manner similar to the hope I had for a horse—i.e., something deeply desired, but with a longing tinged by the awareness that somehow we might be holding out for just a little too much—something a bit unrealistic. We are reluctant to give our hope too much credence.
But Hope, for the Christian, is not something “out there” or “pie in the sky.” Hope is not a matter of looking at the world and life through rose-colored glasses. No, our Hope is something concrete, something Real. It is not “out there,” but here, with us.
Because our Hope is not a something, but a Someone.
Our Hope is founded not upon an earthly kingdom, or a political program, or a set of laws, or a founding document. These things are all passing and transitory. No, our Hope is founded upon something—the only thing—that is lasting and eternal: a Person. We must remember that in the end, the only things that are eternal are persons: divine Persons, angelic persons, and human persons. Placing your hope in anything less than a Person is a losing proposition.
It is in just such a one that our Faith teaches and urges us to place our Hope. And not just in any person, but in the uniquely incarnate divine Person. We can place our hope in him because we not only believe in what he can do, but we know what he has already done.
The liturgies of the Advent season are filled with hope, awaiting, and expectancy. Words of “hope” and “awaiting” occur at least 21 times in the prayers and chants of the Advent liturgies. For example, a recurring communion antiphon throughout Advent reads:
Let us live justly and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope
and the coming of the glory of our great God.
Clearly, this language of hope refers to events and divine actions yet to come. In Advent, we are preparing for Christmas, which has not yet come. We are also meditating upon and preparing for the Second Coming of Christ, which is also yet to come.
But we are not merely looking forward to events with anticipation; we are not seeking something that may or may not happen. No, we are looking forward with expectation. Expectation is not the same thing as anticipation. To “expect” something is to look forward to it with confidence. The word has its root in the Latin exspecto, which in turn has its basis in the verb specto, which means “to look.” To “expect” in this sense means to look out ahead and see what is coming. It is a very concrete idea. And our expectation is concretely based on what we know that God has already done. In the first Preface of Advent, which was used this year for the first 16 days of the season, we read this:
… For he assumed at his first coming
the lowliness of human flesh,
and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago,
and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,
that, when he comes again in glory and majesty
and all is at last made manifest,
we who watch for that day
may inherit the great promise
in which now we dare to hope.
Daily, for the first two thirds of the Advent season, we are reminded that our Hope is founded upon the fulfillment of God’s design in the Incarnation. The language of the first four lines is in the past tense—God has already done these things! Thus we can “dare to hope” because we are not merely wishing for something, but we are expecting the manifestation and fulfillment of that which God has already begun.
This expectation has its realization in the liturgies of Christmas, when the language of hope turns to language of fulfillment and knowledge. So, we read in the Collect (Opening Prayer) of the Christmas Mass during the Night:
O God, who have made this most sacred night
radiant with the splendor of the true light,
grant, we pray, that we, who have known the mysteries of his light on earth,
may also delight in his gladness in heaven.
Who lives and reigns…
Now that we have been bathed in the radiance of the newborn Christ child, and we know the mystery of his light, we pray for the fulfillment of our delight in heaven. We pray in a similar way in the Prayer after Communion of the Christmas Mass at Dawn:
Grant us, Lord… that we may come to know with fullness of faith
the hidden depths of this mystery…
Once again, we have experienced the fulfillment of our expectations in the liturgy, so we can ask for and indeed expect that the mysteries we celebrate liturgically will be opened further to us, because in the liturgy we are united with Christ in his priestly prayer and action. And the person of Christ is the mystery Incarnate. Thus, the Hope and Expectation we have expressed and manifested in the liturgy is fulfilled for us in the Person of Christ, whom we encounter and in whom we participate in the liturgy.
We hope for, and even long for, many things in our lives. Many of them are passing and ephemeral. Some of them, like my boyhood wish for a horse, aren’t realistic. But our Hope in the Person of Christ is the most Real of all, because it is not founded in our wishing or wanting, but upon what God has done and whom God has become.
Editor’s note: Pictured above is a detail of “Adoration of the Magi” painted by Abraham Bloemaert in 1622-24.