These days we hear a lot of noise from self-appointed ‘prophets of doom’. Some people have great difficulty seeing anything good around them. Yes, it’s very tempting to concentrate on all that can go wrong in our lives and communities. But Advent reminds us that we are also a people of hope. Christ is coming to save us! We wait for him with expectant joy!
Let’s follow the example of Pope John XXIII. He was certainly not unaware of the reality of evil. But Pope John also saw the bigger picture. This Advent, let’s especially remember his wise words (repeated by our Holy Father Pope Francis on several occasions):
In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, sometimes (much to our regret) we have to listen to people who … can see nothing but calamities and ruin in these modern times. Comparing our era with previous centuries, they say that we are becoming worse. By their actions they show that they have learned nothing from history, which is the teacher of life … We feel that we must disagree with these prophets of doom who are always forecasting disaster, as if the end of the world were imminent.
Yes, for Pope John and Pope Francis, true prophets do not just denounce—they also announce Good News. That is the real meaning of Advent—we prepare ourselves and others for
Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI also shows us the way forward. When he was Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote a beautiful mediation called The blessing of Christmas on how we can all announce Good News. He points out that it is precisely in moments of suffering that we come to understand more profoundly God’s love and mercy and in particular the significance of God coming to us as a tiny babe. Benedict suggested that there are three key elements of Advent: visitation (or presence), waiting, and joy.
We need to see Advent as a visit from the Lord. Expecting visitors can be stressful, though joyful, and a visitation of illness is often seen as the antithesis of something joyful. He suggests, however, that we keep a mental diary during Advent, considering each moment in the day as a small gift, taking note of all the good things, the times during each and every day that the Lord visits us—every small joy. We have so much to be thankful for.
We all often find ourselves waiting. Sometimes it can lead us to fear—such as when we await tests from a doctor. Yet we also can learn from children, for whom waiting is really the best part! They wait in joyful hope and anticipation for Christmas Day. Benedict reminds us that each moment of our waiting is filled with God’s presence and his hope. God is already here, in a hidden way, in a way that points to a future joy. During Advent, we can seek the hidden blessing in each moment.
Advent is a time of joy. Our beautiful Advent customs are a form of prayer, rooted in Scripture. For example, ‘Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes’ (Psalm 96).
Benedict points out particularly that Advent wreaths and candles, the Christmas trees, cribs and gift giving are ways to share our joy. When we share these customs with our friends and family, we are doing our part to bring Christ to others.
This Advent, let’s also share that joy with people on the margins. Why not bring gifts to the needy or visit those who are truly alone—those in nursing homes, prisons or hospitals—during the Christmas season?
Advent is a time of repentance and renewal. The choice is ours. We can, if we want, join the prophets of doom. But a better choice for each of us is to instead pray for new ‘eyes’. God’s joy can be found if only we open our eyes to his presence. The Lord is very near. This Advent 2017, let’s open our hearts to the tiny babe who, in becoming one of us, has set us free. Let’s announce the Good News!
† Denis J Hart
Archbishop of Melbourne