Sometimes, we look forward to a new year because it means we get the chance to start over. The clocks and the fireworks shoot straight up and hang for a minute before, boom, a fresh start, a clean slate.
It will be good to start again.
This world, this society, this writer could use something of a new beginning. There were beautiful, kind, hilarious things this year, but 2014 also left more than its share of carnage. We could use a turn of the page.
And this is what Christ offers perpetually. He keeps offering the chance to become clean again, to wash our hands of all the grime and sadness that we cling to, or that clings to us.
The hope of Advent is Jesus, who, in a cave in Bethlehem came with more newness than the world could handle. He breathed human breath, a cool cloud rising from the swaddling clothes, and something new started. He became a man, and the world was new. He spoke and the world began again. He died, and the day gave way to something else. He rose, and yet again there was a new hope, a new life.
Nothing is different for us today. With the hope of Christ, we can always look forward to something new.
But, even with the promise of beginning again, we never leave what we were completely. In some ways – the achy, stinging ways – the tragedies of the past month, the past year, the past life, never go all the way away.
Bodies are finally picked up off the street, but we still remember what they looked like there. Juries make their judgments, but the trial doesn’t really end. Old problems still linger, if only in memory. War may give way to peace, but it’s not like the war has no lasting aftermath. Sins may be repented of, debts may be repaid, but even with as far as East is from West, the side-effects don’t wear off just because you can’t see the thing that caused them. A friend’s passing doesn’t suddenly stop being hard. You don’t stop missing him.
But the hope of Jesus doesn’t exclude any of this.
Christian hope – Advent hope – isn’t a stupid, blind hope. It’s not ignoring all the terrible stuff that happens. It’s not forgetting.
The Christian hope is hoping while grieving. Christian hope is believing with both eyes open. Christian hope is trusting during tragedy. Christian hope is loving while remembering.
Thomas Merton wrote:
Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria, an indefectible comfort in whose presence neither anguish nor tragedy can possibly exist. We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the mere suppression of tragic realities. Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy: a victory in which we pass beyond tragedy to glory with Christ crucified and risen.
To be hopeful, we need not forget Eric Garner. We need not turn our eyes from war in Syria, oppression in Palestine, subversion in Ukraine, sickness in Sierra Leone, injustice in so many places. We need not lay to rest our mourning with our friend. Maybe remembering all these things will instill in us a greater hope!
Jesus did not forget, nor turn a blind eye, nor do away with mourning. On the contrary, he remembered the most forgettable among us. He stared the world in the face and went anyway. He said, “Blessed are those who mourn.”
Because he is our comfort.
He is our hope.
And Merton left for us more true words: “Our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be.”