I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25
Above all else, Advent is a season of hope. Hope, as we commonly understand it, may be described as “the desire of something together with the expectation of obtaining it.” The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, includes hope with faith and love as one of the three cardinal Christian virtues. Yet hope seems always somehow more ethereal and less tangible than either faith or love. The reason for this may be none other than Jesus himself.
Jesus speaks often of faith and love in the Gospel. These two great virtues are the very essence his earthly ministry and teaching. Jesus exhorts us to greater faith and love, and upbraids us for our lack of the same, but he does not speak of hope. Indeed, we have no evidence that Jesus ever uttered the word hope anywhere in scripture. If hope is that important, how do we explain Jesus’ paying no heed to this virtue?
In the passage from Romans quoted above, Paul offers an explanation—a very apt and credible explanation at that: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” What we long for, what we desire and expect to obtain, is Jesus himself. Jesus did not speak of hope because Jesus is our hope. On earth in human flesh, Jesus was literally hope personified. He came as the fulfillment of centuries of hope as Emmanuel—God with us.
Our longing, our desire, our hope, our expectation—planted in our souls by God—is to be united with Jesus. We look with hope for the coming again of the Messiah, the King of Glory, to rule and set to rights our wounded, fractured world. Our own efforts fail time and again, but in the sure and certain hope of Jesus’ promise, we anxiously and expectantly hope for his coming. Advent is a time to remember and re-echo the ancient Prophets’ longing for the Messiah.
When Jesus comes again it will be a very different coming than his last. Far from a cold, lowly stable birth, Jesus will come on clouds descending in his full manifestation of glory as the Son of the living God. If we are true to our hope, we will be ready to be received by him.
Jesus knows that we of our own merits and efforts can never be ready for this coming in glory. He has sent us an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to inspire us and lead us toward the knowledge and love of God so that we might ready ourselves for the glorious reign of the Son of God. The Spirit continues to reveal to us the true nature of God and God’s love. In faith and in community, the Spirit speaks to us and enlightens us if we but listen and heed well those lessons.
When we heed and learn the lessons of the Spirit, our souls will turn to God in faith, hope and love. That turning, that repentance, is Jesus’ hope for us. John the Baptist’s cry echoing the Prophet Isaiah to “Prepare the way of the Lord!” rings as clear today is it did centuries before. We cannot make our earthly home into the Kingdom of God on our own, but we can prepare our hearts and souls to be ready for the One who can and will.
Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.