The certainty of Christian hope lies beyond passion and beyond knowledge. Therefore we must sometimes expect our hope to come in conflict with darkness, desperation and ignorance. Therefore, too, we must remember that 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...
But the Church in preparing us for the birth of a "great prophet," a Savior and a King of Peace, has more in mind than seasonal cheer. The Advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, of history, of man, of the world and of our own being. In Advent we celebrate the coming and indeed the presence of Christ in our world. We witness to His presence even in the midst of all its inscrutable problems and tragedies. Our Advent faith is not an escape from the world to a misty realm of slogans and comforts which declare our problems to be unreal, our tragedies nonexistent.Thomas Merton. Seasons of Celebration. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1950: 88-89
Recently I've been thinking a lot about our "hope... that transcends all tragedies," and about the immense tragedies that face humanity at every turn. I look at the faces on TV, of refugees, of those who have lost everything to war, famine, disease, and now at Advent most poignantly I find myself asking, with the psalmists and the prophets, "O Lord, how long? How much more can we take?"
And yet as Christians we do witness to our Saviour's presence even in the renewed shadow of the nuclear threat, with locations across London contaminated with radiation, and a Prime Minister committing to mortgage the future of our communities' health, education and policing to buy brand new capabilities for thermonuclear war. We do witness to his presence even as concerns over levels of immigration threaten to open the door to institutionalised racism, and "buy to let" fever takes even more houses forever out of the reach of young couples setting up home together for the first time. We do witness to his presence even in the devastated streets of Baghdad, in the refugee camps of Dharfur and the flood plains of Somalia.
"Jesus saves!" crowed the old bumper stickers - and he does, still, save in the most astonishing and immeasurable way the lost and the hungry, the sick and the dispossessed, the rich and the disillusioned, across all this broken, weeping world. Sometimes our faith comes right down to this wire, to the bare truth of Romans 8:28, that "... all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9) and his salvation is sometimes radically different from the kind offered by caped individuals who wear their underpants on the outside.
After all, why would the expected Messiah, King of Kings, be conceived out of wedlock, be born in poverty and obscurity, and freely give himself to die in agony and disgrace, if God did things our way? What would a superhero have to say to a blind beggar, shouting in the crowd, or a broken woman whose illness made her forever unclean? What would he have to say to me?