In a world darkened by pandemic and political strife, Advent brings signs of God’s presence
“The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah” (Jer 33:14).
I wonder if there is anyone in the world who has not been affected by the Covid pandemic. From the streets of Manhattan to the slums of Nairobi to the remotest islands in the Pacific, billions of people have worried about avoiding the disease, contracting the disease, treating the disease and have then seen loved ones grow sick and die from the disease. It has been a terrible two years for the world. Add to that economic woes and political strife and the world can seem unrelentingly dark.
This is why Advent is so welcome this year. And so necessary. And why the first reading, from the Book of Jeremiah, can bring light to all who believe in God. Jeremiah is writing a message of comfort to his people around 588 B.C., during the terrible siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. It must have been a terrifying time, with death, violence and destruction—coupled with shortages of food and water and, most likely, widespread disease. Remember that our time is not the first to confront pandemics, and in Jeremiah’s days, with no real medical treatment, disease would have been even more frightening.
It has been a terrible two years for the world. Add to that economic woes and political strife and the world can seem unrelentingly dark. This is why Advent is so welcome this year.
How easy it would be to think that God had abandoned them. Yet Jeremiah promises not only that God has not abandoned them; he promises that God will restore their fortunes, that “Judah shall be safe” and “Jerusalem dwell secure.” How comforting those words must have been to his besieged people.
As Advent begins in our dark world, we can see signs of God’s comforting presence all around us: the dedicated health care workers who battled Covid on the frontlines; the “saints next door,” to use Pope Francis’ words, who helped us muddle through; and the families and friends who showed us their love to us in ways big and small. But we seek God not only in the present, but also in the future. Advent is a season of desire, and what we desire—the coming of Christ into our lives in a new way—is a promise as secure as the promises made by Jeremiah to his people. And from our vantage point, we are blessed to know that those promises were fulfilled and exceeded: From the line of David came a Messiah who was much more than even the most wildly enthusiastic prophets could have foretold.
Our future is secure in the God of safety, who will never abandon us. Come, thou long-awaited Messiah.
We are not sure what a world with Covid will be like over the next few months, let alone the next few years. Nor did the inhabitants of Jerusalem know what their future would be like as the Babylonians besieged them. But they knew it would be a future with the God of love, mercy and compassion, and so do we. Our future is secure in the God of safety, who will never abandon us. Come, thou long-awaited Messiah.
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Get to know James Martin, S.J., editor at large of America
1. Favorite Christmas Song/Hymn
“Good King Wenceslas”
2. Favorite Christmas Tradition
Listening to the “Lessons and Carols” from King’s College in Cambridge live on the radio and hearing the first few notes of “Once in Royal David’s City.”
3. Favorite Christmas Recipe
My mom’s famous Sicilian meat stuffing (ground beef, raisins, chopped egg whites, onion, celery, sage and all sorts of other goodness. Tastes great cold the next day too in a sandwich.)
4. Favorite Video You Produced This Year
What Happens When You Pray?
5. Favorite Christmas photo
Me with my mother and sister in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., circa 1967.