But with enduring love I take pity on you, says the LORD, your redeemer.
So I have sworn not to be angry with you, or to rebuke you.
Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken,
My love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken,
says the LORD, who has mercy on you. - Isaiah 54
(All the people who listened, including the tax collectors, who were baptized with the baptism of John,
acknowledged the righteousness of God;
but the Pharisees and scholars of the law, who were not baptized by him,
rejected the plan of God for themselves.) - Luke 7
Advent takes hold in my heart when I really get to a place of hope in my concrete life. For many of us, there are a lot of things that haven't gone well. We've made some bad choices. Others have made bad choices which have hurt us. We carry wounds from what we've done and from what others have done. There's some shame, and at times, a sense of having been "forsaken." I sense that a lot of us blame God for not intervening to make things better for us. And, if God doesn't do what we think God ought to do, we turn on God, somehow thinking that if we pout a bit, God will get the message that we are disappointed in God, and that explains our distance from God.
These readings offer a different kind of hope. They offer us the opportunity to
have hope based upon a sense of God's fidelity, to such a degree that we trust it. Trusting God's assurances of love and a promise "My love shall never leave you," we can believe our God has mercy on us. That doesn't mean that we discover a God who waves a magic wand at our command. We are offered a relationship with God which is far more profound. Our God says to us, personally, tenderly, with great comfort, "I will always be with you. No matter what you have to face, you will never be alone. I'll be with you - in it, through it, and offer you mercy and peace." This is why Advent is a journey. It takes us steps to come to accept and believe this assurance of faithful, accompanying love, in the depths of our being. We can get to the place of Advent rejoicing when we are convinced that nothing can or will shake us. Oh, there will be challenges. There is a lot to grieve, near us and all around us. The Advent gift of unshakable joy comes when I really believe I am not alone or abandoned.
In the gospel, Luke comments that the sinners are the ones who listened to Jesus' words and acknowledged the goodness, the justice, the righteousness of God. On the other hand, it is the self-righteous religious people who didn't see any need for conversion or baptism by John who rejected God's plan for them.
Hope and joy comes from experiencing mercy and the promise that we will never be alone, that God's love endures forever. That confidence is so freeing.
As the joy grows, we can actually feel the self-absorption fall away. We can sense ourselves no longer carrying the same burdens. Our hearts begin to become sensitized again to notice and care about the suffering of others. Our own Advent hope is the "glad tidings" we have to share with others. The "gifts" we have to give to others, for the world, are more about our hope and joy, to lift others' spirits, to allow us to be a community which cares for each other. Yes, we have great differences and deep divisions, and we've almost been trained by our culture to demonize each other - the ultimate self-absorption. With hope and joy come freedom to pay attention to what disturbs others and leads to anger and even hatred. We can be Advent people when we move to heal and comfort, to have compassion on woundedness and rejoice that our God is near, in fact, always with us, with all of us. We may not be able to imagine how God can love us all. That's what it begins with really believing our God can really love me.