On Saturday, December 17, 1927, the crew of the Navy submarine S-4 was trolling beneath the waters of Cape Cod Bay. They were engaged in routine testing of their vessel. The Coast Guard Cutter Paulding was traveling across the surface doing the same. The vessels never saw each another.
The submarine broke the surface just in time to receive a deathblow from the Paulding. The submarine, with its crew of forty, sank in less than five minutes. It came to rest more than one hundred feet below on the ocean floor.
Rescue attempts, though meager and primitive in 1927, began at once. But due to impossible weather, it took twenty-four hours for the first diver to descend to the wreckage. As soon as the diver’s feet hit the hull, he immediately heard tapping. There were survivors, alive, trapped inside.
Pounding out Morse code on the hull with a hammer, the diver discovered that six crewmen had survived the collision. Efforts were renewed to reach these men before it was too late. But again, the weather would not cooperate. Every attempt at salvation failed.
With their air supply dwindling, the six survivors tapped out in Morse code a final haunting question, “Is there any hope?” For the crew of the S-4, hope would not come soon enough. It was three months before the Navy sent the necessary pontoons to raise the vessel.
The human species needs a few essential things in order to survive. Without these, life is perilously short. Food: Without it, you will starve in four to six weeks. Water, even more crucial, can be abstained from for only three days before bodily systems begin to shut down. Air: It takes only seven or so minutes before brain damage is irreversible. And hope. No one can live, truly live, a millisecond without it.
Hope is that intangible fuel that moves the human spirit along when life appears untenable; when marriages fail; when sickness invades; or when our financial future collapses. We anticipate – we hope – that somehow conditions will improve. We hope that tomorrow will be brighter. We hope that the future will be different than the present. Hope enables us to face whatever difficulties come our way with a greater measure of resolve.
After all, if we have hope that things will change, improve, or work out, we can endure most anything. If that hope is taken away, our spirits wilt and all resistance collapses. We need hope to live in this world the same way we need oxygen in our lungs.
Is there any hope? I can hear this question echo from this craft we call Earth. By our own experience we find the New Testament to be correct when it says that all of creation groans for renewal and relief. The world hopes for something better. We, a part of this expectant world, do the same. We hope for a better future for ourselves, our children, and our families.
Will hope become reality? In my own faith tradition all hope is fastened to this child we find lying in a Christmas manger. Advent is a season to remember, yes, the coming of the Christ child into the world. But it is also a time to anticipate.
Christians gather in houses of worship and around Advent wreaths to reflect upon the day when Christ will come again. A day when all things – all things – will be made new; a day when hope will become certainty, when what we can only pray for now, becomes definite.
When will this blessed hope, the appearing of Christ, materialize? No one knows. Still, God is not slow concerning his promises as some understand slowness. He is patient, wanting all who will to find this hope that sustains the human heart.
In the meantime, we are called to live lives of holiness and anticipation as we look forward to that day and “speed its coming,” the New Testament says. That’s right: Speed its coming. The arrival of hope depends largely upon us, the decisions we make and the lives we live.
Will we live in such a way to bring redemption to the world? I hope so.