12-3-2017 First Sunday of Advent
Dec 4, 2017
Advent 1 / B / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Today we begin the Advent season and a new liturgical year. A new beginning for us. A time to take stock, to look back at the previous year and to look ahead to the next. Perhaps a time to start again, to refocus our lives, to rekindle our spiritual values.
A good place for all of us to start this Advent season is to read the words of the most popular Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." You know the words:
O come, O come Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
You could spend your entire Advent season reflecting on this first verse of the hymn, and I recommend it. Put yourself into the spiritual place suggested by this hymn. It’s a cry from the heart . . . of being in exile, and looking for redemption.
To understand this verse, one has to imagine being kidnapped—a very scary thought! Kidnapping was a common occurrence in the ancient world—and this is why travel was so dangerous. You could be stopped by robbers, who would carry you off to a distant land and hold you for ransom. And you were powerless. All you could do was watch and wait and hope—hope that someone might come to rescue you, even though it seemed unlikely. Just imagine the time it would take to communicate with your family—communication was slow in the ancient world! Then some money would have to be found. Then it would have to be delivered, and so on. And you would sit, and watch, and wait, and hope—"in lonely exile here."
This is the person who says, "O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel." That is the spiritual space we have to occupy during this Advent season. We are held captive in a distant land. And we "mourn in lonely exile."
Maybe you’ve had an experience like that. Leaving home, losing family, going to an unfamiliar place—feeling yourself caught, a "lonely exile," disconnected, longing for family and friends, longing to be the person God created you to be.
With that in mind, listen to our first reading today from the prophet Isaiah: "You, Lord, are our Father, our redeemer." Our redeemer. Think about that word: redeemer. In the Latin redimere, "to buy back." Like taking a coupon to the store to "redeem" an item. God is the one who can bring us back, who can buy us back from captivity, who can "redeem" us from bondage. God redeems us.
To make this concrete, think of addiction, being caught in an addiction—alcohol, pornography, drugs, gambling. A person who is addicted has no power to save himself or herself. They are in bondage. They are in a foreign land. And the more they try to escape, the tighter the ropes are pulled. You are kidnapped!
And in desperation, you cry out, with Isaiah, "Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down," doing "awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as . . . no ear has ever heard, no eye has ever seen." Save us, O Lord!
The beauty is that our God has come to save us, in Jesus Christ, who "ransomed us," redeemed us, out of bondage—from darkness into his glorious light. Immanuel has come—God with us—and has bestowed on us every spiritual blessing in heavens. St. Paul says it so beautifully in our second reading, that we been "enriched (graced, charis) in every way, so that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift." Our captivity has come to an end.
"O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel." That is our prayer, as we begin this Advent season—our hope for redemption.