Hope in the Darkness
EARLY WINTER CAN BE SUCH A DREARY TIME. The little bit of sunshine we get each day here in northern Indiana is gone before I leave work. I step out of the office and into the cold, then drive home through dark streets littered with leaves rotting in the gutters. Weeks of fall rains have kept the sky gray and the ground sodden and made this year seem worse than normal. Winter, “…thy breath be rude,” complained the Bard. Thank God for my neighbors’ Christmas lights, shimmering strings of cheer along the way as I drive the streets near my house. (I’ll get mine up soon. I promise.)
Maybe it’s not just the weather that has me a bit down. The whole country seems out of sorts lately. There was a burst of optimism a year back––a million and a half people on the Washington Mall witnessing the inauguration of a new president and—they hoped—a new era in our politics. We were all looking for better things. A year later, all that enthusiasm seems to have been drained. Every weekend, I still see a crowd with signs outside the courthouse, protesting wars in far away places and the detention of prisoners without trial. On television, some pundits talk up the health care crisis; others fret about the growing budget deficit. We all worry about an economy that can’t seem to turn the corner, about a new flu that won’t go away, about our jobs and livelihoods.
But even with all these worries, we have to remind ourselves that this is the wrong mindset for this time of year. As dismal as things might seem, this is the season of Advent, a season of anticipation and hope. Though the world be filled with troubles and travails, though the times seem bleak and sad, in Advent there is hope in the darkest hour. This is the season when we prepare for the coming of Christ into the world, and when we are reminded that we live in anticipation of the time when Jesus will come again to redeem us all.
This issue of The Cresset has no particular theme that unites the three lead essays. Sometimes we just pick the best pieces in the queue and put them together. But as I read this set for the last time before going to press, I noticed one thing they do share, and this is that they are genuinely hopeful pieces. For those of us on university and college campuses, it’s been a rough year of tight budgets and uncertain futures, yet Mark Schwehn’s essay on “Lutheranism and the Future of the University” is resolutely, if modestly, optimistic about the future of higher education and the contribution that Lutheranism will make to it. In “Our Cylons, Ourselves,” Christina Bieber Lake looks at a recent television series’s sophisticated and compelling treatment of the challenges created by the ongoing biotechnical revolution. Much science fiction is pessimistic and dystopian. Since Shelley’s Frankenstein, the moral almost always has been that humanity will lose control of the forces it releases into the world. But in this recent series, Lake finds a hopeful suggestion that this fate can be avoided, if we make the right choices. Lisa Deam’s latest essay, “Faking It,” is about the craft of history, which might not at first seem likely to say much about hope for the future. But Deam illustrates how historians—whose task it is to reconstruct the past—inevitably are tempted to embellish or even fabricate that past, and she is hopeful that they will do their work with integrity and truthfulness.
So we offer our own hope that the optimism of these essays can weigh just a bit against the darkness of the weather and the anxiety of the times. Children are rarely sad this time of year. They don’t yet know what Advent is about, but they know that Santa is coming and he’s bringing presents. Children long for Christmas morning with a fervor. We should all feel the same way this time of year.