Hope Is a Funny Thing

The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) – December 25th, 2019

St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS

The time of our Advent waiting has come to an end. The Light that we have awaited “shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). The Presence we have awaited “became flesh, and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). And from this Light, from this Presence, “from his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace” (John 1:16). That which each and every one of us waits for, deep down, whether we were able to name it before or not—what our humanity longs for and waits for is here.

Hope is a funny thing. Because you would think that everyone would hope for something. But that’s not true. “Often we encounter people who no longer await” (Carrón). There is this boredom, and malaise, and hopelessness that kind of pervades people’s lives. You talk to people about the future and they say, “What’s the point?” Or, “I don’t expect anything to change.” You ask them what they’re looking forward to, and they say, “Nothing.” People always seem to be bored, nothing is exciting enough, life is boring, dull, useless and flat. Or, once we do find something, it’s only temporary, it doesn’t last.

And we become so accustomed to this boredom and hopelessness that we begin to set-up our lives in such a way that if something we hope in fails, we’ll still be ok. We try to take care of ourselves. We try to provide everything for ourself. Jesus Christ becomes just one more thing, one more nice idea we put in our life to take care of ourself, one other thing that might help—and if it doesn’t, that’s ok, we have plenty of others. And so our “hope” isn’t really hope at all, because we’re not waiting for anything, we’re not hoping for anything, we don’t expect anything—or, at least we tell ourselves that we’re not waiting for anything, we don’t expect anything. Life is just one anxiety after another. But who among us can deny that we’re waiting, that we’re hoping, that we’re expecting—for something?

The other side of the story is that if we hope, the hope we live is usually the hope of the American dream, the hope of what we see others achieve and want for ourselves. We live this limitless hope that is made up of a bunch of limited things. We hope for a job, a car, money, a new phone, fame. We have a hope of, “I started from nothing, but I can become everything.” I always think of Youtubers, Instagram models, celebrities—they were no one, but now they have it all. And this is our hope! How many are here because you wanted a better life for your children, for your family? How many are here because this is a place of such opportunity? Of course!

But here, it’s a funny place. And I’m sure you have begun to see it—maybe even in your children. Here in the United States, yes, there is a lot of opportunity, and comfort, and prosperity. But here in the United States, we are “afflicted with the world’s highest standard of living and what is probably the world’s most bewilderingly empty way of life” (James Baldwin, “Mass Culture and the Creative Artist: Some Personal Notes”). We have everything, we live in the most amazing and prosperous time in the history of the world, we have more technology and money and food and shelter and clothing and comfort and health and safety than ever before in the history of the world! We think that if we work hard enough, we can overcome the problems and sorrow and hopelessness that “have baffled mankind for ages” (Baldwin)—and by the looks of it, we have. But then we step back and look at our life, look at the lives of our children, at our experience each day—and we don’t see it. This “American way of life has failed—to make people happier or to make them better” (Baldwin). Life is “bewilderingly empty.” Where is our hope? What do we hope for?

Even during Christmas time. What happens in three days when the sentimentality wears off? What happens when the decorations come down? What happens when the screen breaks on my new phone? What happens when my Christmas money runs out? What happens when life, real life, daily life happens again? What happens when the problems with your spouse are still there? What happens when your children go back to school and nothing has changed? What happens when you go back to school and nothing has changed? What happens then? What do you hope for then?

These are questions I ask myself. Because this is our real life. This is our real, daily experience. The celebrations of Christmas just becomes one more thing we use to take care of ourselves, to get us through the year. For a couple weeks, things are ok. But it’s just a distraction. We discover that we were just waiting for the Christmas festivities, for gifts, for time with family, for rest. But when all of these “hopes” are fulfilled, to our bewilderment, it’s not enough. Even if you get a new car for Christmas, soon that will not be enough.

But we’re on the right track. Hope, true Hope, seeks something concrete, something real, something you can experience. Just like Love seeks something and someone concrete, a real person to love, a real person to love us—you can’t be “loving” if there is no one to love. Faith seeks a concrete, real someone to have faith in, to be faithful to—you can’t have “faith” if there isn’t something or someone to have faith in. Hope is the same way! Hope seeks something concrete, something real, something you can experience. When we Hope, we are hoping for something or someone.

True Hope means that “I make space for an awareness of my heart—I remember my heart, [the deepest longings of my heart]. My heart: a desire to be wanted. [My heart: a cry for infinite, unending happiness. My heart: something that nothing I provide for myself is ever going to satisfy. My heart: a desire for newness, fullness, indescribable joy.] This is what I want for the next billion Christmases.…When I know what I want, I know why I want Jesus.…[Because with Jesus Christ, in this baby, in this concrete, real someone—that’s what we get], the Kingdom has arrived, the Fullness has begun, [the concrete something or someone I have hoped for has arrived].” (Coulter).

“Beneath the surface of my anxious imagination beckons a calmness that is found in [Him] alone. It washes over every doubt, every imperfection. [This] presence” (Steven Furtick and Chris Brown, “With You”). Beneath all of the ways I am trying to take care of myself in my life, is this one very real, very concrete Presence. It’s not what I expected, it’s not what I thought I was hoping for, it’s not even that cool. It’s just a baby.

But as unexpected and inexplicable as it is, even though the answer to our Hope appears in the sign as simple and as common as a baby, even though placing all of our Hope in a defenseless baby seems like setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment and we’re tempted to take care of ourselves—today, on Christmas, we celebrate the Mystery that in this baby, God has come close, what we hope for has come close. What we hope for continues to move toward us. In this Eucharist, what we hope for moves toward us. He didn’t have to give us this. But he did. He wants to become very, very close to you. He wants to fulfill what your heart truly desires. No more placing our hope in ourselves. No more. “Behold, [he] makes all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Behold, the Hope of all nations (c.f., Mt 12:21), the Lamb of God. Behold, the son of Mary, Jesus Christ.

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