“How out of joint the whole world must have appeared to the Gael of the eighteenth century! Where or how was there any prospect of relief, of ordered life, of achievement of ideals? He was in a pit of sorrow and the gates were closed.” Daniel Corkery wrote these words in The Hidden Ireland, in 1924, as his country was finally emerging from seven centuries of English occupation. Corkery’s major focus was not politics or religion but the cultural life of his nation enshrined in the living tradition of poetry. The poets’ words were memorised more than written and they kept alive a hope, an expectancy of better days to come.

open_bibleHope can be stirred in many ways and expectancy is part of our make-up. As children we longed for the holidays – though today children often look forward to school! What a revolution! Lovers look to each other in hope and mothers are “expectant.” Voters bite their nails on election night and investors tense up before the financial index. Living through years of Rhodesia I remember the euphoria with which we looked ahead to Zimbabwe.

Taking the long view, the fruits of hope outweigh the tears of disappointment. Take Ireland or Zimbabwe – the two countries I know best. The up-swings have elated and energised us; the down-swings have crushed and dispirited us. But I would hold that the former have an enduring effect while the latter, however painful, are no more than a pruning hook. Zimbabwe is in bad shape at the moment but there are multitudes of educated and more realistic, humbler people ready to galvanise the country with their imagination and commitment once the gates are opened on the “pit of sorrow”.

Isaiah combines poetry and prophecy when he speaks of “the nations streaming to the mountain of the temple of the Lord … and they will hammer their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles. (We used those words in Zimbabwe, in 1980, but we did not mean them!) The Church calls this season ‘Advent’, meaning the moment the Lord came to make clear his plan now that “the times had run their course.” All the expectancy of the ages was now about to have its answer.

But his coming would create new expectancies. We now have the plan of the building and know its general outlines. But we still have to build it.  This is the stage we are at now. We still wrangle a lot in the forums of the world. And we still try to push our way by force, though it is becoming ever more apparent how counter-productive this method is. Each Advent we get a boost to our commitment to build; to build a society where there is justice, compassion, peace and love; a society where each one, no matter how poor or disabled, can find his or her place.

November 27, 2016    Advent Sunday 1 A

Isaiah 2:1-5                 Romans 13:11-14                    Matthew 24:37-44


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