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First Week of Advent

Lk. 21:25-28, 34-36

Today's Gospel reading seems a very strange choice. For the season of Advent is a time of anticipation, looking forward to the coming of Christ, and culminating with the celebration of Christmas. In a few weeks time, the public mood will become increasingly joyous. Yet here we are reading about nations in anguish and people dying of fright.

It is precisely from difficult days and desperate situations that we can rise to better times. We often say that despair is opposite to hope, but despair can lead us to hope. Again and again in history, despair has been the womb in which hope was conceived, and out of which hope was born. The hope of a representative and democratic government was born out of the despair of a tyrannical monarchy. The hope of scientific medicine was born from the despair of devastating diseases. The hope of education for all people was born out of the despair of illiterate masses. The hope of world peace came out of the despair of war on a worldwide scale.

That is the tone of our Gospel reading. It faces the facts. It dares to address life in all of its reality and ugliness. We can be grateful for that! If the hope that we have in Christ were rooted in cheerfulness, what kind of hope would it be?

But Jesus described a chaotic scene of global proportions. And then He said, "When these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, for your ransom is near at hand." That is the proper sequence. If we are going to have any hope that has any meaning in this kind of world, we must start with the reality of despair. That is the place where millions of people live and where we sometimes find ourselves. Anyone can be optimistic when everything is going well. It is the time and place of despair that gives rise to genuine hope.

This truth has real meaning for our lives today. We observe the soaring crime rate. We read of governments that are held hostage by drug cartels. We see dishonesty in public officials. We watch the growing epidemic of a deadly disease, that is largely spread through illicit sex. And then we remember the words of Jesus, "People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the earth."

Almost every generation, since the beginning of time, has believed it was living in the darkest hour of history. We do not want to join that chorus. But neither do we want to fool ourselves about the seriousness of the problems that face our world.

This desperate situation, far from being the end of hope, is the beginning of hope. It is the right time and place to rediscover the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus. He says, "Blest are the peacemakers." That is a basic ingredient of society, essential to our very survival. We are lost without it. "Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no". In other words, let your word be your bond. No business, nor economic system and no government can long endure without it. In days like these, we hear with fresh meaning those words that Peter spoke about Christ, "There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name in the whole world by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) He is our hope, our only hope. Often, we cannot see that, until we reach the point of despair.

Perhaps we should take more seriously those words of Jesus, which seem so inappropriate for Advent - nations in anguish and people dying of fright. If you and I, and others like us, could enter into that despair, it would be the beginning of hope.

Holy Spirit, help us to understand that this Gospel at the beginning of Advent is very appropriate, because it indicates how much our world needs a Saviour – and it is only Jesus who can lift us from this despair and give us genuine hope.

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