Everyday experience tells me that hope is about a way to live. It is not just survival, but living authentically amidst all the problems of life with a faith that continues to see possibility when there is no present evidence of it. And, it seems the only way to do this is to try and try again through daily practice.
However, during the season of Advent, the beginning of the year for most churches in the Western tradition, there is a special call to pay attention to the urgent concerns of our interior life through all the hustle and bustle of the time of year.
Advent, the season of hope, begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and ends on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. In the secular tradition of Christmas, when most of the time is spent fulfilling the demands of the season, Advent calls us to something inner, which not only enriches the celebration of Christmas but our lives as well.
"It is an experience that settles us and brings to focus that elusive thing we desire," said Rev. Marvin Foltz, formerly of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Wailuku. "Advent draws us to a joyful pilgrimage and a divine vision to wake up to our full potential and live in the responsibility of love."
"We are given a glimpse into a call for us to offer our lives in love," he added, noting that our ultimate freedom is "God's desire" for us.
The word "Advent" means "coming" or "arrival." It is marked by a spirit of expectation and anticipation of the Anointed One--the Holy Child who will rule the world with truth, justice and righteousness. This is the time of year to contemplate that hope embodied and incarnated in a newborn baby--the perfect example of potential and possibility.
"The Christian observance of the liturgical season called 'Advent' is essentially a time of expectation, not only of the historical birth of Jesus, but also looking towards that future day when he will return," said Rev. David Baar of St. John's Episcopal Church in Kula.
"The Advent season is marked by various practices in the church," he said. There are changed colors used in vestments worn by clergy, special altar hangings and folk rituals which vary widely from place to place."
The Advent calendar is a way to keep children involved in the season of hope and teach them the significance of this sacred time and to remind ourselves of it as well. There is a wide variety, but usually, the calendars are simply a card or poster with windows that can be opened each day of Advent to reveal some symbol or picture leading up to the birth of Jesus.
The Advent wreath, a circular evergreen wreath with five candles, reminds us of God's eternity and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end. Four candles are lit in sequence each Sunday during the four weeks up to Christmas. The center candle, the Christ Candle, is traditionally lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The central location of the Christ Candle reminds us that the incarnation is the heart of the season, giving light to the world and peace on Earth.
The hope of Advent and the light of the candles remind us that Jesus is the Light of the World and that his birth represented the coming of light into darkness.
We are called to reflect that light in our lives.
"Wait for the Lord, be strong, and let your heart take courage, wait for the Lord!" Psalm 27: 14