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Are you in need of a little hope?

Advent is a season to stir up God’s gift of hope within our hearts.

The prophet Isaiah lived in depressing and desperate times. The chosen people of God were living under the despotic rule of the Assyrian kings for some years. It was enormously painful for them to be subject to a pagan king from a foreign land. They could not worship in the Temple in Jerusalem; they were forced to pay unjust taxes, pressured to worship pagan gods, subject to unjust rulers and could not openly celebrate their cherished feasts. Isaiah describes the times as one similar to a forest that has been completely devastated by terrible violence.

Continuing the analogy and inspired by the Holy Spirit to give the people a glimmer of hope, Isaiah prophesies about a future Messianic figure: “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” He goes on to speak of this future leader as one who will be inspired with great gifts, including wisdom, courage and fear of the Lord. He will judge the poor with justice and strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth. The Messiah’s reign will lead to the transformation of the whole of creation: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb … the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.” Isaiah is promising a moment when God will intervene in human history and raise up a leader who will rule with strength and fairness.

This ruler did not arise at the time of Isaiah, and Christians have long understood that this promise of hope pointed directly to Jesus.

John the Baptist was a timely and refreshing source of hope in his day. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New. He prepared the way of the Lord some 700 years after Isaiah. The people had been without a prophet for a couple hundred years. They languished under Roman rule in the land given to them by God, were forced to pay taxes to the Roman governor and were limited in their capacity to worship God as they desired.

John came out from the desert with a clear mission from God. He confidently called the people to repentance, lived a simple life that made it clear that he was not at this task for personal gain, stood up to Roman and Jewish leaders with a refreshing courage and zeal, and he made it clear that he was preparing the way for someone who would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.

John’s example and message stirred up interest and hope as was made clear by the fact that he drew enormous crowds to hear him speak and be baptized in the river Jordan with a baptism of repentance.

Our rich Christian heritable teaches us that hope is a theological virtue. Hope enables us to keep our focus on God who is marvelously faithful to his promises. God, the Father, shows his faithfulness to every Old Testament promise by sending his only begotten Son to dwell among us and carry out the project of salvation. Hope urges us to have profound confidence in God’s gift of mercy and his invitation to abide with him for all eternity in that dwelling place prepared for us by Jesus in our Father’s house. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Jesus is our hope and salvation.

A young person recently helped Jesus stir up the virtue of hope in me. As a freshman in high school, he made the ever-challenging decision to surrender a weekend and attend a retreat with his parish youth group. He sacrificed attending an important practice on his sports team to join the retreat of 25 high school boys. He participated with great enthusiasm, went to confession, enjoyed two Masses, listened to reflections on the beauty of the Christian life, spent an hour in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and gathered several times in a small group to reflect with his peers on how to better live a Christ-like life.

This young man and the other 24 boys were a reminder that Jesus is our hope. He is the Father’s solution to humanity’s ultimate woes. Jesus is the answer to our greatest questions. He is the path to human flourishing. He is the source of eternal life. Jesus is our hope and our salvation.

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019