I see from looking at my posts from the past few years that I always blog about the first Sunday of Advent. But I don’t have any posts for the second, third, or fourth Sundays of Advent. I don’t think it’s because the theme of the first Sunday – hope – is more important to me than the remaining themes of peace, joy, and love. More likely, it’s similar to what happens to most people’s New Year’s resolutions shortly after they are made.
The first Sunday of Advent is the beginning of a new church year for those who follow the liturgical calendar. If I’m going to commit myself to develop new or better habits of prayer, Bible reading/study, or other practices to deepen my spiritual life, this seems like a better time than on January 1. Advent, after all, was traditionally a time of repentance and preparation, rather than an early start to the Christmas season.
But in practice my Advent resolutions don’t seem to last any longer than my New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, and get more organized. Apparently I haven’t even expected them to, because my previous posts on the first Sunday in Advent haven’t given any indication that they are first in a series. I wouldn’t have wanted to say I was starting something and not finish it, so I made a point of not saying I was starting something that I suspected I would have trouble finishing.
That approach seems to go rather counter to the idea of hope, however. Hope looks toward a goal and proceeds despite the inevitable but as yet unseen obstacles. So I will promise myself, and anyone who reads this regularly, that I will post something related to the second, third, and fourth Sundays. (Though it’s possible that those posts won’t all be on Sundays, as Sundays in December can be rather busy for a pastor’s family.)
Hope will probably remain my favorite of the four, however. Besides the fact that this Sunday represents a fresh beginning, hope and expectation are central to the meaning of the entire season of Advent. And hope is an idea that has, for me, more power to inspire than just about any other.
When I took a required course in public speaking in college, I did my informative speech on the concept of hope. The one part of the speech I have always remembered is the quote from Dante’s Inferno, where the inscription on the gate to Hell says “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate“, or “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Whatever one imagines appropriate suffering to be in the afterlife, the worst suffering must be the loss of all hope that things can get any better.
The times in my life when I entertained thoughts that suicide might be desirable were when the present was miserable and I saw no reason to expect that the future was going to be better. Intelligence and determination could get me through the hardest courses in college, but once I started looking for more from life than academic success I felt like a failure more often than not. And since my problems seemed to be of my own making, I couldn’t how things would get any better because I was stuck with myself.
I suppose, even so, I must have had some shred of hope. I never seriously considered suicide, just vaguely wished for such an easy way out, as a person mired in debt imagines winning the lottery. I wish I could say my hope was in God, but I suspect it was more in people who proved to care about me in spite of myself. Still, I believe that it was God showing His love to me through such people.
I guess that’s what appeals to me about Advent. There’s hope, even though so far there’s not much else. And when the hoped-for one does come, he shows the love of God embodied in a human being, not just a mystical force or a feeling.
But that’s Christmas, which is five weeks away. And I need those weeks of Advent to prepare.