I think I’ve finally figured out why I skip over Advent and rush toward Christmas: Advent is a season of hope, and I find it hard to be hopeful these days. There is so much division and injustice in the world. I’m quick to forgive people who are on my team and even quicker to condemn those who are on the opposing side.
If I hope for anything, it’s that my side wins, whatever the cost. And that’s not hope at all.
Hope is more than wishful thinking or anticipating the best possible outcome. That’s optimism. Hope—that is, Christian hope—is the desire for the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now. It inspires us to act with kindness, gentleness, and generosity so we might know and experience peace and joy today. Hope is trusting in Christ’s promise of intimacy with God instead of fearing loneliness and isolation. Hope is relying on God’s grace instead of our own strength or abilities.
In simpler words, optimism is seeing a half-empty cup of coffee and saying it’s half-full; hope is knowing the location of the nearest Starbucks.
Hope is a practice; a discipline. It’s not something you have—it’s something you do. Here are three ways we can practice Christian hope:
1. Look at yourself differently
When St. Juan Diego encountered the Blessed Virgin Mary at Tepeyac Hill in Mexico, his response sounded a lot like something I would say. “You know that I am nobody,” he told her. “I am nothing. You have sent me to walk in places where I do not belong.” Our Lady reassured him—she didn’t choose him to share the message of her motherly love for all people because he was qualified. She chose him because she loved him. Hope allows us to ignore our feelings of worthlessness and see that we are, in fact, worthy for no other reason than the fact that God loves us.
2. Comfort others
St. Paul reminds me that God “consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). I practice hope by being a source of consolation to others. By recognizing their suffering, I can then be a person of love, mercy, and compassion. This can be as simple as noticing when another person is in pain and listening without offering advice or trying to fix things. Hope allows me to love my enemies as Jesus taught (see Matthew 5:44) because I no longer see them as such; rather, I see them as people who are hurting and in need of healing. Hope allows us to reach across the wall we put up around ourselves and serve one another in love.
3. Pay attention to beauty
St. Francis of Assisi praised God with the words, “You are beauty.” God is not something beautiful. God is beauty itself! Hope opens my eyes to the beauty that surrounds me. It is the desire to stop and take it all in, which can be challenging during the run-up to December 25. Personally, I find beauty in nature—I often lose myself in the gentle silence of an evening snowfall. I can also find beauty in more unlikely places: Brake lights in traffic often remind me of the lights on a Christmas tree. A Chicago L train decorated with Christmas lights always puts a smile on my face, regardless of how long I’ve been waiting on the train platform. When we journey with hope, we will see beauty everywhere, even in crowded stores and long lines, and we can point out that beauty to others. For when we see beauty, we will see God.
Advent is the season of hope. We can live this hope by seeing ourselves as, first and foremost, people loved by God. We can live this hope by coming to the aid of others. We can live this hope by looking for the beauty that surrounds us. We can bring Emmanuel—which literally means “God is with us”—into the world by being people who live hope.
(Originally published December 21, 2018)