The first Preface of the Mass for the season of Advent has a beautiful phrase which truly sums up the spirit of Christmas. The Preface reflects upon the two Comings of Christ. The first is that which we celebrate today when Christ took on our human nature and opened for us the way to salvation. The other is His second Coming when He will come in glory and majesty to bring to completion the work of salvation. The Preface states that may we who watch for that day inherit the great promise “in which now we dare to hope.” Dare to hope reminds us that what God has given to us in His Son, Jesus Christ, goes beyond the bounds of what human reason could ever expect. Hope, daring to hope, is what Christmas is all about and what transforms our lives each and every day.
There is an ancient Greek myth regarding Pandora's Box with which we may be familiar. The myth pertains to the gods wishing to avenge themselves upon the human race for transgressions against them. They did so by sending a covered earthen vessel into the world, appearing to be a beautiful gift, but containing within it all the evils that would afflict humankind from sickness to natural disasters. Pandora opened the mysterious gift and all of the evil it contained came forth. One of the versions of the myth is that the last of the contents of the box to come forth was hope. In this version, hope is seen as the greatest of evils since it would be that which would give people the ability to go on in spite of the evils which the gods had inflicted upon them. It sees hope as an illusion and unfortunately, many may see hope in that manner.
What we celebrate at Christmas is a gift that God has sent into the world which, when opened, releases hope as the remedy to all our ills. This gift is His very self, His own Son, who has come, not to bring evil into the world but to remove evil from it. The gods who were offended by humankind in the myth of Pandora's Box wished to avenge themselves for being offended. Our God, who was supremely offended by humankind, did not wish to avenge Himself but to heal completely those who offended Him. He knew that by His coming into the world, He would again be offended to the point of dying on a cross condemned as a criminal. However, His love for us is so great that not even this would stop Him from reaching out to us and lifting us up in His embrace. By His Birth and by His Cross we come to the fullness of life. Any evil or suffering that we endure in this life, including death itself, has been endured by Jesus Christ so that we are never alone. In our greatest suffering, we truly dare to hope because our hope will never be disappointed. Hope truly holds up the world and it is in the Birth of Christ that hope shines forth the brightest.
Each and every one of us dares to hope for something. In our lives, so varied and diverse, we experience many joys, achievements, sufferings and disappointments. Since our celebration of Christmas last year, each of us knows especially the sufferings that are in our lives. The death of a loved one, a personal illness or that of one close to us, betrayal, financial insecurity, meaninglessness at times, a sense of emptiness and a whole array of human afflictions are known to us in different ways. However, as we celebrate Christmas we dare to hope that, not only will these sufferings be lessened but that in them we can find a peace beyond our imagination. God has become one of us. He lives within us. He touches us and we touch Him. He reminds us that our lives only have meaning when we truly encounter Him and know the depths of His love, mercy and forgiveness. We dare to hope in God who never gives up on us even when we are willing to give up on Him and ourselves as well.
Back in October at one of his morning Masses, Pope Francis reflected on the meaning of hope which we celebrate today. He reminded us that hope never lets us down. He urged us never to hesitate to hope even in the most distressing of situations. At these times we do not hope in a manner in which our expectations may or may not come true. We hope in a manner in which we are certain that they will come true. We do so because hope is a gift of the Holy Spirit and that hope can never be let down. Pope Francis reflected that hope has a name and that name is Jesus Christ. The Pope also told us that hope is a humble virtue. He said that we can see and feel the virtue of faith as well as we can the virtue of charity. However, hope is hidden in life but it is not an illusion. Hope is a constant miracle. It is the miracle of what God is doing in our lives by making all things new. God does not delude us because He is faithful.
As we celebrate the Birth of our Savior and look to the manger in Bethlehem, we see that most humble of virtues, enfleshed in God become man in the infant Jesus Christ. God dared to hope in us, not only at the Birth of Christ but from the moment He created us. As He looks at the world through His human nature from that manger in which He was born, He looks with the infinite love that can only come from hope. As Mary looks upon her Son, she does so with a daring hope. It would be that same hope that would bring her to the foot of the Cross in the most agonizing of sufferings when she would see her Son die when all hope seemed to be dashed. But even here she would dare to hope and that hope would not be disappointed. Joseph dares to hope, even when he does not understand what has been revealed to him and is unable to find a place for Christ to be born. He dares to hope that God would not let him down and God does not.
We celebrate at Christmas an amazing gift - the gift of Christ the Savior. We dare to hope in God who will never let us down even though we have let Him down on many occasions. We dare to hope in God who does not send evil into the world but takes that evil to Himself even when we are its cause. We dare to hope in God who promises us that life's meaning is not in the many material gifts which He has given to us, as good as they are. Life’s meaning is in God’s love for each and every one of us. We dare to hope God will indeed wipe away every tear and bring us into the fullness of life. We dare to hope in God who dwells not only in heaven but on earth and in the hearts of each and every one of us.
Pope Francis has shown himself to be a man of great joy. He has spread that joy to so many in the world as he carries out the ministry entrusted to him. His recent Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, stresses that Christ came to make us joyful – that Christianity is a life of joy. However, hope is part and parcel of joy. Pope Francis knows we cannot be joyful unless we dare to hope.
As we give each other gifts this year, let us remember that the greatest gift is that of God's love for us revealed in the Christ child. As we open the gift of God's love for us, only goodness comes forth into our lives and it is only that goodness which will heal us . Let us always dare to hope that God's love is real and transforms even the most difficult parts of our lives. May we know more fully this Christmas the joy of hope.
A blessed Christmas to all! May we always dare to hope!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
December 19, 2013