Advent: Hope, Repentance and Strictly Come Dancing

Author: Fr. Simon Penhalagan

Picture: BRF

Advent: Hope, Repentance and Strictly Come Dancing

We need to turn around and see the world through God's eyes in Advent, says Fr. Simon Penhalagan

As we celebrate the second Sunday of Advent, our readings are both a call to preparation and a message of hope.  Preparation for the coming of Christ and hope that his coming will liberate us.

The first reading, from Baruch, is particularly helpful.  It gives us a context for what we are anticipating.  Baruch is telling the people of Israel, who have been exiled from their homeland for 70 years, that they will return home very soon. 

Because of this, the reading has a deep joy running throughout, even though the homecoming hasn’t happened yet. 

That promise resonates with our Advent message of hope, but it’s what led them into exile that is helpful for us as we think about the need to prepare.

Going Our Own Way

From the time that Moses led the people of Israel to within sight of the promised land, and Joshua helped them to conquer the land, they’ve been swinging between trusting in God and going their own way, with ‘going their own way’ having the upper hand.  In reality, as we can all do, they’ve made other things into gods-the sin of idolatry. 

They’ve followed the false gods of other nations and listened to the voices of men rather than the voice of God.  Bit by bit, they have distanced themselves from God and consequently been taken into exile. 

God told them how to handle the difficult international political situation, but they didn’t listen to him, and so those other nations overran them and led them into slavery.

This situation is a reminder of how we need to listen more to God, and less to the false gods.  What might the idols of the modern day be?  The first idol that we choose to follow is ourselves.  We quickly forget to look at the world through God’s eyes. 

No Condemnation For Our Folly

All other idols follow from this.  Our politics can become a god, our national pride can become a god.  Even a TV programme can become a god.

I remember at Mass one evening when someone was taken ill.  They called an ambulance which, of necessity, blocked a few cars in.  The owner of a car came out of Mass and was really very angry, as the ambulance needed, she argued, to move to let her out as she needed to get home to watch ‘Strictly Come Dancing’.  Things were definitely out of balance.

I know that I am virtually always worried about what other people think; these, and other fears, can take the central place that should be reserved for God alone.

There’s no condemnation in this, but the question is: how are we growing in self-awareness? How are we trying to put things right?  How are we endeavouring to put the Lord’s worldview before our own?

Turn Around

In today’s Gospel, we are told that St John the Baptist “went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.  This is the preparation to which we are called in Advent.

To repent – which literally means to ‘turn around’ – calls us to turn around and follow God’s ways rather than our own direction.  Like the people of Israel, going our own way takes us deeper into exile from God, rather than into his loving arms.  

And how do we do this?  In our second reading, we hear Paul’s words: “My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognise what is best”. 

It’s living in this love, sharing this love, that gives us the ultimate hope: that we abide in the love that is God himself. 

So, in preparation and hope, let us choose to turn around, Let’s say sorry for the times we have failed to love and choose to follow him afresh.  As we choose to love him in this way, let’s pray that we can grow in love for one another more and more, and know the hope that only love can bring.

“For God loved the world so much

that he gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost

but may have eternal life.” (John 3: 16)

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