Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.”
– G.K. Chesterton
It looked unquestionably bleak.
In a matter of two weeks, the Nazis had roared through Luxembourg, crushed the Netherlands, marauded through Belgium and blitzed deeply into France. The French Army and British Expeditionary Force found themselves pressed onto the beaches of Dunkirk with their backs to the unforgiving waters of the English Channel. The Americans across the Atlantic made it very clear that they wouldn’t send their boys to any foreign wars. And Great Britain looked increasingly alone.
But as the grim events inexorably unfolded, the bulldogish Prime Minister Winston Churchill made it clear to his Cabinet: There would be no surrender. In the darkness of those days – days which anticipated the Blitz of screaming bomber attacks on the cities of England – Churchill growled to his band of brothers.
The House [of Commons] should prepare itself for hard and heavy tidings. I have only to add that nothing which may happen in this battle can in any way relieve us of our duty to defend the world cause to which we have vowed ourselves; nor should it destroy our confidence in our power to make our way, as on former occasions in our history, through disaster and through grief to the ultimate defeat of our enemies.
And within days, Churchill further pronounced,
I am convinced that every one of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.
That was the first and greatest weapon raised against the Nazi menace. Hope was the light that illuminated blood-stained rocks on embattled Pacific islands and cold corners of the blackest concentration camps. It fired the chilled soldiers in the wintry foxholes of Bastogne and it refreshed the dirt-coated liberators in North Africa. Hope wasn’t a component of victory; it was the key to it.
That is the essence of Advent.
In dark days of disease and loneliness, fear and guilt, sin and death, a dusty prophet declared to an enslaved nation,
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone. (Isaiah 9:1)
In a cultural backwater occupied by fearsome soldiers and short, unforgiving lives, a peasant girl was visited by a heavenly creature,
Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High – and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:28, 30-33)
An expectant mother and adoptive father, wise men traveling from afar, shepherds sensing a change in the chill wind on the edge of town – all were drawn by faith, but pushed by hope.
What is this strange thing, hope?
Perhaps the French poet, Charles Peguy, described it best in The Portal of the Mystery of Hope.
The faith that I love best, says God, is hope. Faith doesn’t surprise me. Its not surprising I am so resplendent in my creation… Charity says God, that doesn’t surprise me. It’s not surprising. These poor creatures are so miserable that unless they had a heart of stone, how could they not have love for one another. How could they not love their brothers. How could they not take the bread from their own mouth, their daily bread, in order to give it to the unhappy children who pass by…What surprises me, says God, is hope. And I can’t get over it. This little hope who seems like nothing. This little girl hope. Immortal…It’s she, the little one, who carries them all. Because Faith sees only what is. But she, she sees what will be. Charity loves only what is. But she, she loves what will be.
Yes, that’s it. Hope is a precious, vibrant, beaming little girl who loves not only what is, but what will be.
Oh, it is true. At times in our lives, things can look a little bleak.
But take courage.
The essence of Advent is a little girl, Hope.
Photo credit: Pixabay