Come December 31, we all will be getting ready to say goodbye to the old year – 2010 – and ring on the new. So for almost the entire world, the new year starts on January 1st. However, for the Catholic Church, the new year begins in Advent. When you think about it, it really is a fantastic time to begin the Church’s year. So Happy New Year to all my Catholic sisters and brothers.
During Advent, the Church focuses on the coming of The King of all kings – Jesus Christ – and she challenges the faithful to “prepare ye a way for the coming of Christ the King". So rather that the secular way of welcoming in the New Year by making lots of New Year resolutions, the Church challenges us to be ready for the second coming of Jesus. During Advent, the Church challenges us to do an inventory of our lives; to take stock of ourselves. A beautiful way of doing this is to measure ourselves with Jesus. Now I know that this may seem to be an impossible fete, but the Word of God challenges us to “Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” – Matthew 5: 48. This particular verse ends chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel with Jesus speaking about loving your enemies.
I have found that a really great way to prepare to Advent or to take stock of my life is to look very closely at 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 13
4 Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, 5 it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances. 6 Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth. 7 It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. 8 Love never comes to an end. But if there are prophecies, they will be done away with; if tongues, they will fall silent; and if knowledge, it will be done away with. 9 For we know only imperfectly, and we prophesy imperfectly; 10 but once perfection comes, all imperfect things will be done away with. 11 When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and see things as a child does, and think like a child; but now that I have become an adult, I have finished with all childish ways. 12 Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face. Now I can know only imperfectly; but then I shall know just as fully as I am myself known. 13 As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love.
During the first week of Advent, the Church looks at the message of hope and encourages the faithful to do the same. So what exactly is hope? Is it something tangible that you can reach out and touch? Can I see hope? What is this hope all about and how does it relate to Advent and 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 13?
Hope is to believe in something better in spite of how the circumstances may look. To hope means to believe in someone much bigger that you and I, someone who can take charge of our circumstance, no matter how dismal they may be. To hope is to believe that tomorrow will be brighter that today. In the book of Job, the word hope was mentioned several times – and I think we are all aware of Job’s ordeal.
And you shall be secure, because there is hope; you shall look round you and lie down in safety, and you shall take your rest with none to disturb. Job 11: 18-19
For a tree there is hope, if it be cut down, it will sprout again and that its tender shoots will not cease. Job 14: 7
No, those who hope in you are never shamed, shame awaits disappointed traitors. Psalm 25: 3
Why so downcast, my soul, why do you sigh within me? Put your hope in God: I shall praise him yet, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42: 5 -6
Young men may grow tired and weary, youths may stumble, but those who hope in Yahweh renew their strength, they put on wings like eagles. They run and do not grow weary, walk and never tire. Isaiah 40: 30 – 31
In his name, the nations will put their hope. Matthew 12: 21
Hope is to look around in our world and at mankind, and in spite of all the negatives, be able to see goodness. Hope is that wife looking at her husband who has been an alcoholic for most of his life and still loving him and seeing in him a soul that needs to be redeemed. Hope is that mother whose son or daughter is caught up in the might of drug addiction, but keeps on praying every day and night because she believes in a Power so much greater than the evil of any addiction. Hope is that young person whose father is non-existent and whose mother lives on the street, but who continues to try and strive to excel at school because he/she believes that they were created for so much more. Hope is what God our Heavenly Father sees when he looks at us in our wretchedness through Jesus Christ the precious Lamb of God that was slain.
Earlier, I said that Advent is a time of taking stock of ourselves and that 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 13 is a great tool by which to measure this. That passage ends by declaring that there are three things that last; faith hope and love, and that the greatest of these is love! Why is love the greatest? It is because faith and hope are both off-springs of love. Without love I cannot have faith. Without love, I cannot hope. Without the love of God in my heart, I cannot hope that this world will be a better place. However, with the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus in my heart, not only can I believe and hope in things getting better, but I can see myself as being a part of the solution. You see, that is one of the main characteristics of hope; when we have hope, we cannot be exempt from that which we hope in. We cannot be exempt from the hope that social injustices will end and be contented to do nothing about the injustices that we see.
To hope is to believe that we can move to a better place, to a better state of existence. That requires some action on our part. 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 13 challenges us to work on ourselves; it challenges me to take a long hard look at me, and by the grace of God to be conformed to be more like Him who is Love personified. When we really read and ponder on this passage, our conscience should ask us the following questions:-
Am I patient and kind to all – even those that are difficult to get along with?
Is there jealousy within me? Is there anyone that I am jealous of?
Saint Paul says that the only thing we should boast of is Christ Jesus. Are there other things that we boast of? Do I think that I am so good that I am constantly boasting about my achievements to others? Have I forgotten that all that I have, all that I am is a gift from God? Do I remember to thank God for all the gifts He has given to me?
Am I self-centered and arrogant? Am I conceited? Do I think that I am the “best thing since sliced bread”?
Am I rude to others? Am I rude to my parents, my guardians, teachers and those in authority? Often adults think that being rude is something that only children can do; but that is not so. Even as an adult, am I rude or impolite to others – be they older or younger?
Am I selfish? Am I willing to share that which I have with others? Do I treat others as I would like to be treated myself? Do I think of others? St. Paul wrote in Philippians 2: 3 - 4, “there must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everyone must be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interest first, but everybody thinks of other people’s interest instead.” Can you imagine a society that is based on this passage alone! What great hope there would be!
Am I thinned-skin? Do I take offence easily? Do I easily fly off the shoot? Do easily jump off the deep end?
Am I resentful? Is there anyone that I am harboring resentment against? Is there anyone that I have not forgiven? Is there anyone that I am having difficulty forgiving? Is there anyone that I have chosen not to forgive? Who do I want to get back at because they have hurt me? Who am I angry and bitter towards? Am I angry, bitter and unforgiving towards my own self?
Am I a joyful messenger of bad news? Am I eager to spread the latest gossip? Do I speak positively to and about others? Do I delight in what is truth?
This is a big one – am I eager to excuse others even when I know they have wronged me? Jesus, in his dying breath said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Am I willing to do the same?
Am I willing still trust and to still hope in my spouse, my mother, my father, my child, my best friend, even after they have hurt me so badly?
Am I willing to endure the hardship of this life for the sake of the Gospel?
Am I willing to keep working at the relationships in my life – especially family – because they are important to me and it is what God will expect of me?
We are challenged to be perfect as God is perfect; and God is Love. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul paints the perfect picture of what real love is. Everything that he wrote about in 1 Corinthians 13 is in the nature of God. Since we are made in God’s image and likeness, then we must strive towards being “Love” and the only way to be “Love” is to allow the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus to find its roots and foundation in our hearts. When we allow the love of God to consume us, then we will become people of faith, people of hope. Then we will become salt to the earth and light to the nations, filling our world with great hope.
Father, as we journey through the beautiful season of Advent, may the power of your Holy Spirit transform our hearts and make us into the people you desire us to be – a people of great hope. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN!
|< Meeting Jesus In Advent||The Real Meaning Of Advent And Christmas >|