In his work, “An Essay on Man,” Alexander Pope wrote: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” The dictionary defines “hope” as a “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.” Hope is very evident in children at this time of Advent, the pre-season of Christmas and the feast itself. Lists have been made and letters sent to Santa. Expectations are high.
Christmas is very special to most people. It was very special to St. Francis of Assisi. In 1223, three years before he died and, as Peter Mazar notes in “To Crown The Year,” when the Muslims and Christians were fighting over ownership of the Holy Land, Francis had the first Christmas crib set up in Greccio, Italy. In doing so, he created a little Bethlehem. He called forth hope from within humanity’s heart, the expectation of a deep and moving God experience, an encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. The Infant in the crib reminds us that God, out of love for us, chose to put on humanity to become one of us.
While the prayers and Scriptural passages of the Advent and Christmas seasons present the history of Jesus becoming human, his mission is also included and filled with great hope, its fulfillment in this God-man. As Alice Camille reminds us in “Exploring the Sunday Reading,” “Jesus was hope walking.” The Church prays, “ … He is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples. “May he come quickly and not delay.” Scripture, especially the psalms and the New Testament, is rich in references to hope. In Baruch he is the Messiah “… wrapped in the cloak of justice from God.” John the Baptist announces: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” As we gaze into the manger, we recall the words of Isaiah, “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.” We can envision the newborn baby and smile at the innocence lying there; however, the next words of Isaiah call us to the reality of who this infant really is and what his destiny encompasses:
“ … upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder – Counselor,
God – Hero,
Father – Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast and forever peaceful.”
This is the One whose gift is hope – hope that emanates to all of creation. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis assures us, “Hope does not let us down – the hope of the Lord!”
Jesus truly is hope walking!
On a personal note, when I returned to Pittsburgh, I was gifted with a powerful experience of hope walking. It occurred at a community meeting when we were receiving information about our future. A group of advisors from the business community had generously offered their support and assistance as we plan for the future. This affirmation gave me hope.
Hope does spring eternal in the human breast!
Sister Concetta Fabo, OSF