Liz took a deep breath as she tightened her grip on her husband’s hands. She was in active labor now, and the contractions were becoming more and more painful. It was agonizing to go through so much pain, but Liz knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel: soon she would be holding her first child in her arms. So even as she dreaded every contraction, a sense of hope sustained her.
In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul used the image of a woman in labor to describe the hope that is central to the season of Advent: “All creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but . . . we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23). Advent is a time filled with hope: the hope that is wrapped up in Jesus’ coming as our newborn king on Christmas and the hope that we still hold out as we await his return in glory. Similar to the way Liz felt as she waited for her child to be born, it’s a hope filled with joy and expectation, even when we are suffering.
This kind of hope is a gift from the Holy Spirit. It’s a gift that helps us move through a difficult time with confidence. It’s the kind of hope that Jesus is calling us to when he tells us, “Stand erect and raise your heads,” even in times of great upheaval (Luke 21:28). It’s a hope based on our trust that God is able to produce something good out of every circumstance, both good and bad.
Hope in the Midst of Trials. In today’s Gospel, which takes place not long before the Last Supper, Jesus talks about the wars, famines, and uncertainty that will come with the end times. While we don’t know if we are living in that time, we do know that the world is experiencing a great deal of turmoil. Not only are we living through a global pandemic, but all around us we see signs of division, hatred, and indifference. Even within our own hearts, we might experience a good amount of fear: for our future, for our children, for our jobs, for our health or safety, or even for the Church.
But in the midst of all the world’s turmoil and even as he prepares for his own suffering, Jesus tells us to stand tall and lift up our heads. Why? Because of this promise: “Your redemption is at hand” (Luke 21:28). Our redemption—freedom from sin, deliverance from suffering—is near! His truth can set us free and become a strong foundation for our lives. It can even lead us to rejoice!
So what can we rejoice in right now? What truths can form the basis of our hope?
Our hope is based on the truth that no matter what happens in us or around us, Jesus is with us. He lives in us and wants to give us a share in his power and his goodness right now.
Our hope is based on the truth that Jesus has given us the greatest treasure possible: his Spirit, who can comfort us, guide us, teach us all things, and give us his peace.
Our hope is based on the truth that Jesus has redeemed us and set us free from sin. Even when we don’t “feel” redeemed, we only have to look at a crucifix to know that it is true.
Our hope is based on the truth that, like Liz, we know how the story ends! Jesus will come again to usher us into a new heaven and a new earth, where there will be no more suffering or sadness.
This is where our hope lies—in the goodness of all that Jesus has already done for us and what he is prepared to do. Or as Paul asked, “He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” (Romans 8:32).
Holding Fast to Hope. We know how easy it can be to lose hope when we are going through a time of upheaval. The last thing we want to do is to trust in God when our lives seem to be coming apart. But it’s exactly in these times that Jesus wants us to be most persistent in exercising the gift of hope. That’s because hope is not wishful thinking; it’s a godly perspective on life that helps us make godly decisions. Hope urges us to see things the way God sees them and to make decisions based on that vision.
• Hope trusts in God’s faithfulness even when he doesn’t grant us everything we are praying for.
• Hope believes in a forgiving God who will be merciful to us when we meet him face-to-face.
• Hope keeps our eyes fixed on Jesus, who has fulfilled every promise of the Father.
• Hope doesn’t lose sight that Jesus will ultimately triumph over every sin, struggle, pain, and division.
So when life’s challenges present themselves, remember that there are always two paths laid out before you: either you can stand and lift up your head with confidence in God’s love, or you can let yourself be weighed down by life’s burdens. If you choose the first path, you’ll find comfort and guidance from the Holy Spirit. But if you choose the second path, you risk letting your heart become “drowsy” as the “anxieties of daily life” pull you down and “catch you by surprise” (Luke 21:34).
Seeing with “Spiritual Eyes.” Advent is a season of hope. It’s a season for looking at life with “spiritual eyes” to see things that may be hidden from our “human eyes.” It’s a time to look at a newly born child and see in him the Savior who has promised to return in glory. It’s also a time to see ourselves as a people who have already been redeemed, even as we await our full salvation in heaven. Like that new mother going through the pains of labor and waiting eagerly for the birth of her child, we too can wait in joyful hope, secure in the knowledge that our “redemption is at hand” (Luke 21:28).