One of the traditional hymns we sing during the Advent season is:
‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lonely exile here. Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you O’ Israel.’
This song refers to the time in Israel’s history when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed for the first time in 587BC and the people of Israel were captured and exiled in a foreign land. This not only represented a political defeat for the Israelites at that time but presented a faith dilemma as well. The loss of the Temple was huge. The Temple was the focus of all their worship. It was God’s dwelling place. It seemed that God had been defeated too in the process. Yet in the midst of it all this song expresses a dependence on God and that God will ultimately come through. Eventually God does. Seventy years after that time their enemies had been defeated and the Israelites were allowed to return home. This forms the historical context for the first reading we hear this Sunday from the prophet Jeremiah.
Twenty eight years ago I was doing a Spiritual Year in the USA as part of my seminary studies for the priesthood. I spent 5 weeks of that time volunteering in a shelter for the homeless in Miami. The place ran a live in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programme. I was privileged to be invited to several of the meetings. The first 2 steps of the programme are basically admitting powerlessness to go it alone and the second one is to rely on a “higher power.” For us as Christians this “higher power” is God. Only God can give the kind of inner freedom that humanity yearns for.
This weekend we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent. Advent means “coming.” We focus on the three comings of Christ throughout the Advent Season; Christ who came to live amongst us, Christ who comes to us each day in the people we encounter and the events of our lives and Christ who will come again in the future.
Today our Gospel focuses our attention on the future and at the same time encourages us on how to live in the present. No matter what calamity takes place whether it be war or natural disaster the victorious Son of Man is ultimately in control. We express our belief when we live faith filled lives understanding that we can’t do it alone and that we need to rely on him.
Advent is a time to reflect on our relationship with God. It represents an opportunity to renew our relationship with the Lord. If we are not happy and do not have a sense of well-being sometimes the reason why can be found by asking the question “what I am feeding my soul with?” in terms of what I read, watch, listen to and the way that I lead my life. This what Jesus wants to draw our attention to when he says the words “watch yourselves” and “stay awake”. It is in relying on God that we ultimately experience the restoration and liberation that we spend our lives yearning for.