The season of Advent is about hope. That is the message to be taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. His message of hope in Christ speaks to Christians throughout the millennia as it did to the Church at Rome c. AD 57.
Back then the Roman Christians experienced persecution at the hands of the pagans who dismissed Christianity as a cult, a movement that lacked the antiquity of Judaism and Rome’s own pantheon of gods and was therefore unworthy of the respect of an institution that had familiarity and staying power, a movement that would never survive.
Certain emperors promised to not drive the Christians from Rome if they promised to not convert the Romans. (Of course we did—such irony!)By the time Paul arrived in the Eternal City in chains to take up residency, members of the Church had been receiving instruction on the gospel from Saint Mark the evangelist, who taught them that true discipleship meant bearing the cross as did Christ and in maintaining sustained hope in his Second Coming. This was all carefully scripted in advance through the Spirit and the Word. “Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4). To hope in God means to believe in the Word that contains the promise of the Coming of the Messiah and his Parousia promised long ago through Abraham and the covenant struck with him by God.
In Chicago recently I visited Holy Name Cathedral. Francis Cardinal George, wearing violent vestments for Advent and flanked by his deacons, preached on Advent as a season of hope and the God’s promise of the birth of Hope. Advent is a season of expectation of that promise to be fulfilled when the season concludes and we enter Christmas Season. We know that Jesus is born in hearts filled with hope in God but we also await for his continual coming into our lives through the Word and the Eucharist.
That isn’t something to be put on a Christmas list and it isn’t brought to us by Santa Claus or delivered by the stork. Hope in the return of God is an inevitable reality, one that can only be fulfilled by hearts made ready to receive the Lord in the manger and to receive him when he arrives on the clouds of heaven. A manger scene is ubiquitous in our culture but to perceive the glorified Lord demands seeing reality through eyes of wonder, hearts of hope. Paul writes: “Hope that sees for itself is not hope. Who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance” (Rom 8:24-25). Abraham looked to the sky at the starts, too many to count. Let us then look to the sky for the sign of Hope that cannot be determined with a telescope or a weather report. We pray, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord; open the eyes of my heart.”
Advent is a season of hope, hope in the birth of Christ and hope in his return. There cannot be a Parousia without a Nativity and the Nativity is diminished of its meaning without the fulfillment of the Second Coming. We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s enteral reward for the good works accomplished through the grace of Christ” (CCC No. 1821).
Scholars believed that Paul wrote to the Romans from Corinth. When he arrived the community greeted him warmly, though he had never visited Rome before. On the Second Sunday of Advent, Paul, the New Testament’s premier epistoleer, preaches to Christians throughout the millennia the words of hope to the souls of the Romans and the receivers of the Word who await the fulfillment of the promise of the continual coming of the Lord into hearts made ready to receive his glory. Advent brings us together in the hope of greater Christian unity. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 15:4-5).