It is said that Advent is a season of HOPE. Indeed, it is. However, we always need to be reminded that Christian hope is firmly related to reality. It is not linked to dreams or fantasy. I hope for something to happen because I know it will – at some stage. Christian hope is linked to truth and faith.

So, as we prepare for Christmas it is possible to hope that these weeks of Advent will

COMFORT US. This we are assured of in the opening words of THIS SUNDAY’S OLD TESTAMENT READING [ISAIAH 40: 1 – 5. 9 – 11].

Comfort

is one of those many English words which have been brought into ill-repute. Too often it is confused with mollycoddling. It is said, for example, that we visit those in grief in order to comfort them. However, too often people end up ‘stroking’ and pronouncing rather silly little sentimentalities. Comfort means to be with someone in strength. We are ‘with them’ to provide a fort. At Christmas, God – our divine parent – proves beyond all doubt that he is with us as a strength, a fort. In the Child Jesus he “speaks to us tenderly.” See that Isaiah tells us to lift up your voice with strength.” Why? …. because “the Lord comes with might.”

We HOPE for this because it is the realistic truth which does happen.

However, Isaiah says something else …. “in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight … a highway for our God.” In the wilderness – implies that in a real and positive way we should ‘withdraw’ from the frenetic pace which easily engulfs us in these Advent weeks. This withdrawal will provide us with quality time to prepare a highway for the Lord. If our Advent hope is realistic, we will do it. I must not mollycoddle myself but

BE WITH AND STRENGTHEN MYSELF. No one else is going to do it for me …. and if I do not do it the preparations will break through the fort and leave me a victim. This is the way I “behold your God.” I will never behold anything properly when preoccupied with navigating a crooked road. The journey is as important than the destination. If the journey is travelled properly then at the destination I am able “to lift up your voice with strength.”

An essential element of my self-strengthening

[see TODAY’S PSALM – 85 or 84] will be that time which will be allocated so that “I will hear what the Lord God speaks.” Then, as the Psalm also informs us, “the Lord will bestow his bounty, and our earth shall yield its increase.”

In passing, our

NEW TESTAMENT EXTRACT [2 PETER 3: 8 – 14] shows us that in Advent “the Lord is patient with us” ….. and provides us with the opportunity to wait (withdraw) … and be found by him.” In a strange but real way we should use these Advent weeks to place ourselves where the Lord is able to FIND US. If he finds us in Advent, we will find him at Christmas.

THIS SUNDAY’S GOSPEL [MARK

1: 1 – 8] raises a few important issues.

Mark introduces his version of the Gospel with the brief repetition of the prophet Isaiah’s clarion call. The Advent start of our liturgical year is, indeed, a clarion call which invites us to prepare the way. We need, and must, make preparation for Christmas and this will, as we said earlier, involve us in an element of withdrawal. Such withdrawal is not achieved by removing us from life and living but by keeping us straight … focussed on for what we are preparing; not the gammon but the

CRIB!

The Baptist had withdrawn to the wilderness. Nevertheless “there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem.” They were ministered to in the wilderness. They had withdrawn from the hustle and bustle of their ordinary lives.

It was there in the wilderness that they heard about the

PERSON who was coming to do something even more special: “after me comes he who is mightier.”

This person must become our HOPE!