8 Dec 2010

Advent Reflections - What does Advent mean to me?

“Everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope, from the examples scripture gives of how people who did not give up were helped by God.” (Rom: 15:4)

The above excerpt is from the second reading on the second Sunday of Advent. It reminds us that waiting in expectant hope is the central theme of the Advent season. St Paul reminds us that there are examples in the scriptures of people who never gave up hope and can thus serve as an inspiration to us in our Christian journey.

One such example is the prophet Isaiah who is a key figure during Advent. This prophet was writing over 500 years before the coming of Christ. When Babylon invaded Israel, destroyed the Jerusalem and razed the Temple Isaiah hastily gathered fragments of scripture of the earlier part of the book of Isaiah, and brought them with him as the people were taken off into exile to Babylon. Throughout the exile Isaiah encouraged the exiled Israelites, reminding them of the promises of God, reassuring them that one day they would return, and helping them to keep hope alive. Isaiah’s trust was not misplaced; when Cyrus invaded Babylon the Persians freed the Israelites to return to their homeland.

In our own time too, there are ‘examples of people who did not give up hope’ and ‘who serve to teach us something about hope’.

Ingrid Betancourt was born in Colombia and raised in France. As an adult she gave up a life of comfort to return to Colombia to try to better the lives of the people there. In 2002 she was campaigning as a presidential candidate when she was taken captive by the FARC rebels and held as a hostage for the next six and a half years. Her time as a captive in the Jungle was one of terrible mistreatment, of cruelty, imprisonment, isolation, often chained by the neck, day and night. She has written her story in a book called ‘Even Silence has an End’. In this story of great courage she says that the ultimate freedom can never be taken from us – the freedom to choose the kind of person we want to be. She described how reading the Bible allowed her to enter a state of deep meditation and inner peace. The Bible became her trusted companion; what was written there forced her to stop avoiding her true self; she experience the written word as a living voice speaking directly to her. It was thus that she remained strong, waiting in expectant hope for the day of her release.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest in Burma which is one of the poorest countries in the world where one third of the children are malnourished. Suu Kyi is part of a pro-democracy movement campaigning for human rights under a military dictatorship. On her release, just a few weeks ago she showed no sign of bitterness; asked about all she had suffered she simply said, ‘I don’t feel I have suffered greatly – many others have suffered more’. She says she wishes those who imprisoned her no ill. A man who has also campaigned for democracy in Burma says her words are ‘like raindrops promising new life in the monsoon season’, he said his heart was once again filled with joy and expectation and now he can hope and pray again.

This Advent season is a really difficult time for many people in Ireland. Many households are genuinely struggling to make ends meet. The temptation to despair is not far away.

Advent is a call to wait in hopeful expectation. It is a time for recognising that the most important things can never be taken from us, our spirit, our hope, our optimism, our sense of community and care for each other.


Eamonn

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