Life & Soul

Advent summons us to hope from the depths of winter

A detail from Horace Vernet’s Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem (1844)

Advent summons us to hope from the depths of winter, a winter that is frequently reflected in the seasons of the heart. It is a time to take stock of our lives, to become aware of all that has died within us, and to acknowledge a hope, once so strong, that has now grown faint.

Such was the despondent Jerusalem addressed by the prophet Jeremiah. The glory days of David and Solomon had become a distant memory. Jerusalem now lived under the shadow of relentless threat. Her institutions, both religious and civil, were crumbling beneath the weight of corruption and ruthless self-interest.

There was little comfort for God’s people. The light was fading from their hearts.

In a less dramatic, but nonetheless real manner, we can experience a sense of inner loss, a dimming of the light. The year that is ending has been marked by increasing violence and an uncertainty that seems to mock the future. On a personal level we are frequently led to pray: “Lord, if only we could begin again.”

At the darkest moment the prophet Jeremiah promised such a new beginning. “See, the days are coming, it is the Lord who speaks, when I am going to fulfil the promise I made to the House of Israel and the house of Judah.”

The promise was made in terms of Israel’s history. The rulers of Israel, King David and his successors, had wandered far from the promise of their beginning. In similar ways we can wander far from the promise of our baptism and first faith.

The prophet Jeremiah, foreshadowing the birth of the Messiah, promised that there would be a new beginning, a new David. That same hope reaches into our hearts at the beginning of Advent. We are not the prisoners of a sinful past. There can be a new beginning and a new future, a future
of God’s making.

In today’s Gospel Jesus entreated his disciples to commit themselves to the future that he was building.

Yes, there would be disturbance and unrest, but they were to stand firm, confident that their future rested in his hands. They were to begin with a change of heart, living each moment in his presence. “Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.”

Let us pray that, despite the many distractions of a commercial Christmas, Advent might become for us a season of inner attentiveness. May we surrender ourselves to Christ’s presence, Christ’s promise, and a future of his making.

This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (27/11/15)

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