This is the text my Thought for the Day, broadcast on BBC Radio Kent this morning:
I don’t know about you, but I have felt for some time that whenever I tune into the news there is nothing but doom, gloom, depression and pessimism about the future. The euro, the financial markets, the cuts, the strikes, rising unemployment, especially amongst the young, high prices, the failure to do anything about climate change, the melting glaciers, the growing world population, discredited exams – the list goes on. If, on top of this dismal backdrop, one happens to have a bad day at home or at work, the doom and gloom is compounded.
Today is the third Sunday in Advent. We are all familiar with Advent as a ‘countdown to Christmas’, and at a superficial level children – and not a few adults as well! – enjoy opening their Advent calendar windows in anticipation of the presents they hope to receive at Christmas.
John the Baptist, the hermit-prophet cousin of Jesus, quotes Isaiah in today’s reading from John’s Gospel, about himself:
‘I am … a voice that cries in the wilderness: Make a straight way for the Lord.’
At one level the wilderness is the desert John has been living in, fasting and praying with a strong sense that the Messiah is near, that things are on the brink of radical change. But for us, the wilderness is also an image, a metaphor, for a dried up world, devoid of hope and joy, full of fear and helplessness. We can all recognise that desert encroaching constantly on our lives, and the hopes we once had, perhaps more today than ever before.
In this desert, where despair seems at times to reign supreme, we need to retain a belief in the possibility of joy, even if we don’t feel much of it right now. We must somehow find a faith that good does triumph over evil, right wins out over wrong, that darkness becomes light, and despair turns into joy. This is how we can, as John the Baptist says, ‘make a straight way for the Lord’: we make a space in our hearts for the possibility, however apparently far-fetched, that one day we can find the purpose and fulfilment we seem so badly to lack.
So Advent is much more than a countdown to Christmas. It is a time when we are invited to recall the virtue, the moral strength, of hope in the midst of our physical and spiritual darkness. A traditional name for this Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, which in Latin means ‘Rejoice’ Sunday. This Advent rejoicing is for all seasons, and quite different from the excitement at the prospect of parties and presents in two weeks’ time.