Advent is here and all I have to say is, “Bah! Humbug!” I haven’t even put away the autumn decorations yet, and like many of you I was separated from most of my immediate family over Thanksgiving due to common sense Covid-19 precautions. Plus, the way this year has progressed so far, I’m not expecting anything other than a giant lump of sooty coal in my Christmas stocking anyway.
But ready or not, Advent is upon us. In Western Christianity this is the month-long celebration of the birth of Jesus (Eastern Christianity has a similar tradition). This is when the faithful turn our hearts to hope, love, joy, peace, gift-giving, and all those warm, fuzzy sensations of the season. And like I said – “Bah! Humbug!” – I’m just not feeling it.
Yet, I need Advent this year, and never have I been more reliant upon the words of one of my heroes, Václav Havel. When asked how he could persevere through a life of injustice that included Nazi atrocities, Soviet occupation, multiple arrests and incarcerations, and physical torture he replied, “I simply carry hope in my heart.” That is the spirit of Advent.
Hope is not a feeling or an emotion. It is persistence and determination. It is never giving up on what could or should be. It is the incorruptible belief that people can be transformed. It is the stuff of dogged resiliency. Hope is what occupied that manger on the first Christmas, a child that perfectly incarnated a love capable of redeeming the world. That is the hope needed within our hearts – the hope we must share – this Advent more than any other in our lifetimes.
Another hero of mine is the late Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel. Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, endured more suffering before his adulthood than the majority of those reading these words will ever experience. Yes, he survived, but his faith did not. For Wiesel, God “was murdered at Auschwitz,” but decades later a strange and familiar stirring began moving within his heart. It was hope. He had been carrying it all along.
He would find his footing saying, “We shall not give up. We shall not give in. It may be too late for the victims and even for the survivors – but not for our children, not for mankind!” A journalist familiar with Wiesel’s journey asked him, “Despite your disappointment and pessimism, do you remain hopeful? Do you still have faith in God as the ultimate redeemer?” The old man’s answer was textbook chutzpah, filled with the glory of tenacious hope:
“I would be within my rights to give up faith in God, and I could invoke six million reasons to justify such a decision, but I am incapable of straying from the path charted by my forefathers…We must wager on the future. We must not give in to cynicism. Hope is our gift to each other. So, my wounded faith endures.” That is hope, and that is what we need.