January 23, 2018, 11:30 pm
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Waiting in joyful hope

A MAN named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.

And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?” he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ.” 

So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?” He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord, as Isaiah the prophet said.” Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

***

Advent is the Church’s liturgical season brimming with hope! Regarding the “elusive virtue” of hope, believers receive some solid advice from Scripture: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15). However, one may sincerely ask: Are these words of advice realistic and practical in our contemporary context? 

We live in a world that seems, at times, devoid of genuine hope. We can easily list many depressing and difficult realities: broken families, growing poverty, disenchanted youth, government corruption, random violence, proliferation of illegal drugs. It even appears that nothing has changed. Are we Christians simply naïve and dangerously out of touch with the real world when we speak of hope? Are we to believe the two “prophets of hope” presented to us today: Isaiah (First Reading) and John the Baptist (Gospel)?

Source of Our Hope. The writings of Saint Paul express well the true source and object of Christian hope. In a particularly illuminating passage (Rom 5:1-5), Paul affirms: “Through our Lord Jesus Christ…we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…”

What evidence do Christians give as the basis of their hope? Simply: God’s unfathomable love has been manifested in the unique gift of his Incarnate Son, Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Thus, Christians (at Christmas and always) remain people of hope; with Saint Paul they affirm: “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:8-9).

Communicating Hope. Here we face a very difficult challenge: effectively witnessing to hope in our broken world. How do we “bridge” people’s fears and frustrations with Christian hope? 

We Christians, as “missionaries of hope,” begin with a profound acceptance of life’s realities and people’s growing anxieties. Secondly, the “missionary of hope” will communicate the true source of Christian hope: Christ our savior. In addition, the “missionary of hope” through words and concrete actions manifests solidarity with the suffering and those on the peripheries of society. It is this personal “people engagement” and “sincere service” that become the fertile ground in which the seed of hope is nurtured and grows.

God alone is our hope—even within a broken world, a wounded humanity. God’s loving presence—born for us in Bethlehem—engenders hope. God’s profound presence enables believers to “live in joyful hope.”

Saint John XXIII. In calling for the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII renewed the Church as a “community of hope” within a world full of challenges and problems. The Church’s commitment to stand in solidarity with all humanity is expressed eloquently in Vatican II’s longest document, the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, better known for its Latin incipit Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope). The poetic opening words capture the Church’s dedication: “The joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties, of people of today, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (GS n. 1). 

With John XXIII, we Christians boldly affirm: Our God is a God of hope. Our God brought hope—both through his birth in Bethlehem and his death on Calvary. Our incarnate and crucified-risen God remains the only source of “joyful hope”—everywhere and at all times! Become a “missionary of hope”! 

***

– Fr. James H. Kroeger, MM
– (Dec. 17, 2017)
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