I've been thinking about the prophet Nahum lately. Nahum lived close to the height of the Assyrian empire (about 800 BCE). As a Jew, he was part of a conquered nation. Nahum spoke both to the Assyrians and to his own people. For the Assyrians, he predicted the bloody end of a bloody tyranny. To his own people he brought reassurance of God's justice and their own future freedom: hope for an oppressed people.
In Advent, we too hope, and our hope too takes a political form. We believe that the poor baby born in the stable grew up to preach liberation to the captives, sight to the blind, forgiveness of debt.
Nahum's name means "comfort." His message is simple and direct: Be comforted -- the powers of this world stand under judgment. God hears the cry of the poor. In Advent, Christians remember that God not only hears the cry of the poor, but God was born one of the oppressed. Like Nahum and all the greater prophets, Jesus lived among suffering people. This was not God enthroned, listening from a distance to wails of suffering. No, God-with-us was with the wailing crowds, healing, comforting -- and challenging. God took on flesh and lived in this dirty, lovely world. God cares profoundly about what happens to every human, every sparrow, every shrimp and sea worm. This is our hope.
Hope is not optimism. Advent hope, Nahum's hope, is not the belief that everything will work out for us if we just believe. Advent hope, Nahum's hope, is that the power of the empire will be overthrown and the poor will be able to live their lives in peace and plenty.