Advent is a season of hope, the hope that God puts into our hearts. In some obscure way, we all long for a new beginning. We long to shed the burden of the past, to rediscover within ourselves a hope that longs for the future, that is ready to begin anew.
The familiar words of the Prophet Isaiah promised precisely such a new beginning to a people whose hope had reached its lowest ebb: “A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse, a scion thrusts from his roots.”
Long ago King David, sprung from his father Jesse, had been Israel’s brightest hope. Sadly, neither King David nor his successors had lived up to the hope invested in them. Thus the prophet promised a new beginning, a new David. The prophecy would be fulfilled in Christ: one upon whom the Spirit of the Lord would rest, a spirit of wisdom and insight, counsel and power, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
The hopes that David and his successors could never fulfil, would be fulfilled in Christ and in the power of the Spirit entrusted to him. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, we are invited to believe in Isaiah’s promise that for us, too, there can be a new beginning.
Isaiah’s beautiful imagery, reaching for a world in which the wolf dwells with the lamb and the lion with the ox, consisted of more than empty words. His words expressed a basic human longing for peace, peace of mind and heart, an all-embracing harmony in which all can grow into the fullness of life fearing neither hurt nor harm.
The world that we experience is far from Isaiah’s vision. We know all too well the disappointed hopes brought about by our own sinfulness and the broken relationships that bring violence to our divided world. We know the poverty that cries for justice, the despair that goes uncomforted. Surely we long for a better world? But where shall we begin? “A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his path straight.”
John the Baptist met God’s people in the Judean wilderness. The same God meets us in the wilderness of sinful hearts. The invitation that opens our lives to a new beginning was spoken by John the Baptist long ago: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.”
Repentance is something more than a reluctant confession of past wrongdoing. Repentance is a whole new way of thinking and change of attitudes. We begin to believe that in Christ we can become what was promised long ago. We begin to believe that the Spirit that descended on Jesus can transform our lives, filling them with hope. We begin to believe in the peace that Christ alone can bring to our troubled hearts and broken world.
St Paul suggests that this repentance should begin with those closest to us: “It can only be to God’s glory, then, for you to treat each other in the same friendly way that Christ treated you.”
Advent is a good time to repent, to forgive and be forgiven, and to rediscover the precious gift of inner peace. We begin with those closest to us, our own family and friends. Without such repentance the Christmas we prepare is mere tinsel.