As we saw the first of our Advent candles lit at the beginning of last week's Mass we got a sense of a new beginning, of a setting out, a sense of journey. To me it was a reassuring affirmation that we are all 'going somewhere'; that we are on our way to meet a future, a glorious future, which lies ahead in the uncertainty of our troubled lives and our troubled times.
Those candles tell us our life has meaning, direction, purpose and a goal - all given to us by Christ. They are candles of hope; giving light and yet, like us, being consumed.
This week it is the second candle, and then soon the third and fourth, and then all too quickly it will again be Christmas. Yes, the liturgical year goes round and round in a circle but it is always an ascending circle, a spiral of longing reaching upward for a moment of fulfilment.
We, who live in great, sometimes terrible, vulnerability besieged on every side by temptation and sin, anxiety, fear of illness or old age or failure, or a thousand other difficulties - we, who, whatever our age, are inescapably approaching the painful moment of our death - we wait for a God who saves.
Yes, that is the nature of our God; he is a God who saves. Indeed, that is what the word Jesus means: God saves.
The prophet Baruch, writing all those centuries ago, knew that Israel, just like you and I, had much to suffer, horrible sufferings; the worst of which was that they were exiled from their homeland, and from Jerusalem. And when you come to think of it, so are we; exiled in this 'valley of tears'.
But Baruch, speaking to Jerusalem as though she were a mother, assures her that her children will return. He addresses Jerusalem as Jesus might speak to heaven, our eternal homeland, and announces the new Jerusalem:
Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress ... arise ... stand on the heights and turn your eyes to the east ...though they left you on foot, with enemies for an escort, now God brings them back to you ... for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory with this mercy and integrity for escort.
Our God, as the Lord's Prayer says, means to deliver us evil, every evil, especially death. But we must be patient, we must wait. We must prepare ourselves. We sow in tears; we will reap in joy.
Popular culture would have us believe Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of the Divine Infant to Bethlehem. Not so. He has already come, and gone.
No, though we celebrate, and celebrate again what has already been given us we direct our present desire, under the guidance of the prophet Baruch, to the future coming of the glorious Saviour.
If all eyes turn to Bethlehem where the Virgin gave birth to the Redeemer two thousand years ago it's for the same reason we contemplate the other mysteries of his life, because they reveal the one Lord, the merciful Redeemer and just Judge, who is yet to come in glory.
Our contemplation of the birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord is, consequently, a necessary contemplation, which nourishes our understanding and therefore our longing. These ‘mysteries of the Rosary’ are the footsteps of the Saviour in history, leading us to that spectacular moment of completion when the very same Saviour will appear before us in the fullness and splendour of his power over all, including time.
He is coming as he promised; what must we do? I think you already know. We must do the only thing we can - be ready!
Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low, winding ways will be straightened and rough roads made smooth.