2nd Sunday Advent A - Homily 1

Homily 1 - 2007

All three readings speak to me today about hope.  With Advent, hope is in the air! Pope Benedict has just published his second encyclical, and that’s about hope.  Depending on your political leanings, the goings-on in Canberra may also give rise for some to a response of hope… though, for others, it may be more a case of  “don’t hold your breath”.  And then there’s the Bali conference addressing issues of Climate Change.

Isaiah, in the first reading, looked forward in hope to the birth of a son to King Ahaz to whom God’s spirit would give wisdom, who would have the skills to govern well, who would listen to God’s voice speaking through his conscience, and who would take that voice seriously.  The lad did in fact grow up to be one of the best of Judah’s kings – though the competition wasn’t really all that great.  Not many people handle power well.  

John the Baptist pinned his hopes on the one who would follow him, the one stronger than he: but he let his imagination run wild, confused things, and experienced later on quite a conflict of faith when Jesus turned out to be the kind of person John did not quite expect.

Where might all that leave us – in the midst of all the things that go on in our lives? How does the coming of Jesus affect our outlook on life?

Matthew’s Gospel – the gospel we shall draw from this year – assures us, right from its opening pages, that, with the birth of Jesus, God is with us – or, as he said in Hebrew, Emmanuel! The final words of Matthew’s Gospel return to and emphasise the theme: Jesus assures his disciples:  I am with you always, till the end of the world.  We can live in that hope: I am with you.  Daniel Berrigan, the American Peace activist and poet, once wrote of: “The breathing space in the iron cage:  Behold! I am with you!”  

What "I am with you" always says to me is that, whatever is going on in my life, however I read it - good news or bad news – Jesus is there, right in the middle of it; not necessarily responsible for what’s going on, not pulling strings, not trying to persuade me that bad is good, but ensuring me, as St Paul put it in his Letter to the Romans, in all things, God works together with us for the good.

In whatever happens, God is there, empowering a way forward, provided we draw on the inner resources God gives us.  If we give God room, God can make, even of sinful decisions – destructive and all as they inevitably are – the opportunity to grow beyond them.  Jesus, Emmanuel, through whom God is with us, himself grew through the most destructive of situations – his tortured, tormented, death by crucifixion…  And, as the Letter to the Hebrews, put it, he became perfect through suffering – precisely because God was there, empowering him to trust, to persevere, to forgive, to hope, and not to lose heart. 

It is the promised constant, involved, presence of the loving and empowering God in every moment and in every situation of our lives that is the source of hope.  We don’t have to understand.  We simply draw on the resources that God always provides – not necessarily beforehand, but as we need them – and trust the outcome.  The outcome may not necessarily be what we expected, but, if not, then something better.  Things did not turn out as Isaiah anticipated.  Things did not turn out as John the Baptist anticipated.  But what did turn out, contributed to by their faithfulness, was infinitely better – something that they would never have dreamt of.

For us, it does not have to be only the really significant things, either.  In every situation of our day, complicated, or as simple as could be, God is there in the reality – empowering us always to accept what is as opportunity and as gift.  Beginning always simply from what is, God enables us to bring all our personal resources to bear to make any experience life-giving.  That is why we hope: In Jesus, God is with us.