A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
-John Sullivan Dwight, “O Holy Night”
Hope (noun): a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
–Oxford English Dictionary
Advent is a season of the liturgical year observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas and the return of Jesus at the Second Coming.
As “armistice” is defined as a staying of the action of arms, “solstice” is a staying of the sun’s apparent motion over the latitudes of the Earth… When the ancients saw the sun stop and slowly climb to a higher midday location, people rejoiced; here was a promise that spring would return.
This morning, the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Brazilian priest presiding over the eucharist wonders aloud if in the Southern hemisphere, the liturgical calendar shouldn’t be reversed. In South America, he notes, the descent into cold and darkness begins at Easter, while at Advent, the days are longer and warmer, trees ripe with fruit and riotously colored flowers. I remember my Central America summers. Dark fears and worries under a hot, bright sun. One December I went hiking and heard a bird whose call trilled like a waterfall, so beautiful I ached to hear it.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the word—
And never stops—at all—
And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.
In this world, at this time, there is so much darkness. Airstrikes and anti-Semitic attacks. Racial profiling and religious persecution. Nations fail, hearts ache with loneliness, and the sea is rising, birds are dying. The oppressed cry out for freedom and light, and the powerful have the audacity to echo these cries. “We are lost in darkness,” the powerful cry out, with matchsticks in their pockets, not just refusing to light candles, refusing to see there are candles to be lit. If the powerful hope, it is in themselves, in the steady, cozy growth of their material well-being.
…Hope / Smiles from the threshold of the year to come / Whispering ‘It will be happier;’ and old faces / Press round us, and warm hands close with warm hands…
-Alfred Lord Tennyson
The hope of the oppressed is liberation.
O Come, O Come Emanuel
And ransom captive Israel
-traditional, “O Come O Come Emanuel”
Seeing that she had loosed pain and evil on the world, Pandora shut the jar, not quick enough, but tightly. First woman, world-shaper, Pandora learned how questioning can uncover the ugliest human impulses. But—the story goes—she also acted quickly enough to trap something in the jar.
Only Hope was left within her unbreakable house,
She remained under the lip of the jar, and did not
That is why Hope alone is still found among the people, promising that she will bestow on each of us the good things that have gone away.
I can’t stop thinking about hope—its vibrancy, its uselessness. What does it mean to hope in the dark when the night has stretched on so long that sunlight is barely more than legend, a tale sweet in the mouth but hard to believe?
Instead of waiting for the bright sunshine, I have learned to rest in the shadow of hope… Knowing that we may never see the realization of our dreams, and yet still showing up…[Hope] is working in the dark, not knowing if anything I do will ever make a difference. It is speaking anyway, writing anyway, loving anyway.
-Austin Channing Brown
I use the term hope because it navigates a way forward between the false certainties of optimism and of pessimism, and the complacency or passivity that goes with both. Optimism assumes that all will go well without our effort; pessimism assumes it’s all irredeemable; both let us stay home and do nothing.
Optimism is a notion that there’s sufficient evidence that would allow us to infer that if we keep doing what we’re doing, things will get better. I don’t believe that. I’m a prisoner of hope—that’s something else. Cutting against the grain, against the evidence. [Hope is] the conclusion that the world is incomplete—that history is unfinished, that the future is open-ended, that what we think and what we do does make a difference.
-Dr. Cornel West
Hope does not deny the darkness; it seeks to transform it. Hope offers no cheap answers, no easy consolations, not even any promises. Instead, it beats inside us like a prophecy: The night is almost gone, and the day is near (Romans 13:12).
Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, early on described the movement’s mission as “rooted in grief and rage but pointed towards vision and dreams.” The vision of a better future doesn’t have to deny the crimes and sufferings of the present; it matters because of that horror.
Anger mobilizes, hope organizes…There is still a place for anger and sadness, if we balance them with a sense of how we make things better. For no matter how dark the story, there is always some glimmer of hope. And it is our job to kindle that flame.
It is evening. It is solstice, the sun long set, the night so long. What can I do but join the chorus of these voices? What can I do but press forward in hope? I cling not to the probable but the possible. Here in the dark, a thrill of hope against reason, beyond reason. A hope that calls for action.
Hope does not exist in a moment; we must create hope. Hope is a gift, a grace, and when we receive a gift, it is not for us; it is for our neighbor.
-Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez
When I preach, I am always preaching hope—hope.
-Archbishop Oscar Romero
I feel that writing is an act of hope.
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).