Isaiah 11, 1-10 + Psalm 72 + Romans 15, 4-9 + Matthew 3, 1-12
December 4, 2016 at St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL
The world is full of promises from politicians to preachers. It is full of promise breakers and promise keepers too. One of the consequences of this reality is cynicism, and there are more than enough cynics to go around. Cynicism and Catholicism do not go well together. Our faith, resting on the kind of hope the readings today put before us, makes no room for the cynic. Cynicism is the enemy of hope. The cynic always refuses hope saying things like: “Things will never change.” “It’s no good.” “It has always been this way.” This kind of thinking comes easily requiring nothing from us, no trust, no effort, and always no love.
I think that one of the reasons John the Baptist was such a hit in his day attracting so much attention from common folks to those in power was that he stirred up hope. He took people to a place called “hope.” All of us spend a lot of our lives waiting and hoping for a lot of things. It is impossible to live when one is completely without hope which is what leads people to take their own lives, no hope. Hope is as important for our souls as bread is for the body. Hope is the mark of a true believer. It is a virtue that like any other virtue must be practiced and strengthened by action. For us who follow the way of Christ, hope never means just sitting back and waiting for things to happen. Believers make a difference in this life, and so we believe that our efforts are worthwhile. We work hard with the gifts we have in the confident hope that something will come of our efforts.
The great thinker, poet, and playwright, Vaclav Havel, stirred the dreams of the Czech people after the fall of communism. He once said, “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I just carry hope in my heart. Hope is not a feeling of certainty that everything ends well. Hope is just a feeling that life and work have meaning.” He understood that Hope is not the same thing as optimism which is the expectation that things will get better no matter what. For us Hope is the trust that God will fulfil God’s promises in God’s way and in God’s time. People of hope live in the present moment with the knowledge and the trust that all is in God’s hands. This kind of trust is the consequence of hope for those who believe.
This world suffering from so many broken promises and disappointed by so many promise breakers longs for what this season offers, hope. Great leaders are people of hope. They do not need to know what the future will look like. They simply do what is right in the present trusting that God will care for the future. It is enough to know that there is a faithful God. We are about to celebrate God’s promise kept. That’s what Christmas is, the fulfillment of God’s promise to be with us, stay with us, and restore us to our innocence. What can bring light into the darkness of this world is new people which makes the call of John the Baptist so important, – repentance. It means changing our lives, because changed people will bring about a changed world.
St Paul speaks of that change so clearly today. He brings it down to simple reality. Treat each other in the same friendly way Christ has treated you. It’s easy to be critical and quick to judge, to be intolerant of the faults of others. If we did what Paul proposes, we would make the world, or at least the corner of it where we live a more hopeful place. It is our mission and our responsibility to keep hope alive and set an example. When all is said and done, this world can never fulfill our deepest hopes. Only God can do that. Meanwhile, we live in a place called “hope” that enables us to keep one foot in the world as it is, and the other in the world as it should be.