Several weeks ago I had a conversation with my assistant about the then upcoming elections that went like this (yes, in English):
Me: Do you think there will be violence with the elections?
Him: (very matter-of-factly) Yes, I hope so.
Me: You hope so??
Him: Yes, I hope there will be violence.
Me: (Unsure if he understood me correctly) You hope there will be VI-O-LENCE??
Him: Yes, I hope so.
Him: I mean, I don’t want there to be violence, but there normally is, so I expect there will be some this time.
Me: Ahhh, you expect there will be. ‘Hope’ means that you want it to happen.
Him: No, no, no!! I don’t want it to happen!
We then continued discussing the difference between ‘hope’ and ‘expect’. I realized later that his confusion lay in the meaning of the Portuguese word esperar which means ‘to wait for; to hope; to expect’.
And isn’t that what hope really means? To wait for, with expectancy. Yet in English we use it synonymously with ‘wish’ or ‘desire’. We can even use it contrary to ‘expect’: I hope Candidate A will win, but I expect Candidate B actually will. However, when we talk about ‘hopes’, it is used more like ‘expectations’: Don’t get your hopes up, you’ll only be disappointed. We hope for the best but expect the worst.
So I ask myself, in all this confusion and even in correcting my assistant, do I really understand what ‘hope’ means? I should by now, after 30 years in the Church, 30 years of celebrating Advent. I roll around a couple sentences in my head, trying out which one best fits what hope should mean: I hope Jesus is coming; I expect Jesus is coming. Neither one, in our common English usage, fits what I want it to mean. If I say, “I hope Jesus is coming,” people might say, “But He is! Don’t just hope it, believe it.” But to say, “I expect Jesus is coming,” sounds devoid of emotion, devoid of any excitement.
I’m expecting… Pregnant women say this. I don’t know what that kind of waiting and hoping for is like, but I imagine it’s probably the closest type of hope that we should experience toward Jesus. Certainly it’s what Mary felt, as she waited for Jesus. But I am not a mother, so what can I compare it to?
When I was nine-going-on-ten, living in Oman, my family planned to go back to the States for a three-month furlough at the beginning of the new school year. I saved every baiza of my allowance for one year to buy a black ten-speed Huffy with hot pink handlebars, seat, and pedals when we got to Orange City, Iowa. For a whole year, that bike was so clear in my mind, and the thought of riding a ten-speed to school compared to a kids’ banana seat bike was exciting and motivating to me in a way that nothing else ever had been. (That’s when I learned the value of saving money.) I always loved going to Orange City anyway and riding bikes all over town and to the public pool with my cousin in the summers. Weeks before we left Oman, I started envisioning myself riding the black and pink bike along Orange City’s streets. The closer we got to our departure date, the clearer my visions became, and the harder it was to wait. That was hope; that was expectation.
Perhaps when I can use ‘hope’ and ‘expect’ and ‘expecting’ and ‘wait’ together, that is when I catch a glimpse of what Advent hope really means.