Advent is upon us—a season of hope, of expectation, and traditionally of penance as we turn toward the savior to be born of the Virgin in Bethlehem. This time in the life of the Church is quiet, even somber, yet filled with the joy of the Incarnation, with the realization that God—the deity above all things we can know and understand—has become fully human, has come to walk and dwell with sinners.
This has also been the case historically. For example, an earlier form of Advent—St. Martin’s Lent—involved a rather rigorous fast, one kept (though in a slightly different form) to this day by Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox Christians. At the same time, it is clearly a season for expectation, for, as my priest reminded me this weekend, looking toward the light of Christ in the quiet November-December darkness. Some have even used this emphasis on hope to push for the use of blue as a liturgical color in this season (as it was used, to some extent, by certain medieval usages of the Mass). This change remains controversial; regardless, hope and penitence are intertwined in the season: a time both to meditate upon our sins and find illumination and comfort in the truth of God’s taking on flesh.
This is, I think, has political meaning. Some Americans have expressed fear over the election results; Catholics seek to hold President Trump accountable, even as traditional Republicans are forced to figure out where they stand with the president-elect. On all sides, there exists a temptation to fall into despair, or at least to overinvest in politics. One group says “what if our fears do come true?” even as many Catholics question what happens if Trump fails to keep his promises. It is a tense time. And yet Advent may provide the perfect remedy.
Why? Well, it is a season not just for observing Christ’s historical birth but also one for recognizing God’s coming at the end of time; as we look toward the First Coming, so we are reminded of the Second Coming.
And this is central to our politics—it gives us hope. It reminds us that God always remains in control, that His providence rightly guides history, even in ways that might seem unreasonable to us. Our job is to act justly and lovingly, which means occasionally making use of politics, of tearing at our hair, and lamenting when evil seems to win the day. But the ultimate end of history—of politics even—is the eschaton, is the hope found in Christ’s Second Coming, just as hope was found in His First. Just as we ought not despair over the early-setting sun in winter, so should we not despair because history and politics seem difficult. Rather, we must remain hopeful and turned toward the Lord in both His Incarnation and in His return. The small setbacks of life, whether personal, cultural, or political are just that—setbacks. What truly matters is working toward the eschaton.
What truly matters is a politics of hope; our faith demands it.