Reflections for Advent 2008
Monday of Advent Week One – 1 December 2008
Readings – Is.2:1-5, Ps.121, Matthew 8:5-11
Some times we fight wars of words in our heads. We practice the ‘put down’ lines that will devastate the argument of our opponents. We rehearse the ‘killer’ phrases that will most inflict hurt or make those with whom we are arguing squirm with guilt, shame or some other emotion. Words are the swords and spears of our time. They are our hidden weapons of mass destruction – a secret arsenal hidden under the cloak of outward Christianity and righteousness. When we unleash them on those on our neighbours, our colleagues or loved ones who we perceive to be against us, those who do not share our views, our lifestyle or our values they can be just as lethal as the latest in the current armoury of nuclear powers.
Yet words can be hopeful, reassuring, soothing or affirming. They have the power to be productive in the style of the ‘ploughshares or sickles’ of the prophet Isaiah. Christians are supposed to share the vision of a kingdom of justice, love and peace and we have been given the life and example of Jesus as a model for bringing this into a reality. It takes the outsider, the centurion, in today’s Gospel to recognise the healing power of the word of Jesus. As a Eucharistic people we routinely say the words ‘Lord I am not worthy to receive you just say the word and I shall be healed.’ The next time we say those words of healing let us ask for the grace to use words in a way that builds people up, words that speak truth with gentleness and honesty, that can set people free of guilt, words of forgiveness that will create a climate where peace can flourish and grow among us. In future may we give the word some thought – a kind thought – before opening our mouths.

Tuesday of Advent Week One – 2 December 2008
Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 71:1-2.7-8.12-13.17, Luke 10:21-24
A striking feature of Isaiah’s reading today is the vision of harmony among animals that normally are not at peace with each other. It takes eyes of hope to see the wolf and the lamb, usually predator and victim respectively, learning to live with each other. Imagine the cow and bear making friends in a land of ‘milk and honey’. Consider the little boy leading the calf and lion cub together to the table of nourishment.
That all this would come about from small beginnings, in fact from one single shoot, seems daunting. Yet in nature we see this miracle of possibility happening all the time. Advent is a season of hope – a time for dreaming new dreams – a time to renew hopes that may have faded. The kingdom which Jesus proclaimed and promised was one of justice, love and peace. This remains an empty dream, an unfulfilled promise in so far as we have given up hope that this might come about and in so far as we do not work to bring about this kingdom in our own time.
Sometimes it is our adult prejudices that stop us from fulfilling the seemingly impossible dreams. When we were children we travelled to imaginary places in books and movies. Nothing was impossible or unreachable because we were not weighed down or held back by the weight of learned responses to people and situations that appear might be a bit different or irregular.
This Advent day let us recapture the innocent hope of the child who sees goodness and possibility around them. May today be the day when we reach out to others who  would be regarded as ‘strange bedfellows’ and invite them to share, even in our thoughts, in the vision of Isaiah, the dreamer of dreams. Who knows where that aspiration may lead us in dialogue and acceptance? Maybe a shared table of nourishment from which no one is excluded.
Thursday of Advent Week One – 4 December 2008
Isaiah 26:1-6, Psalm 117:1.8-9.19-21.25-27, Matthew 7:21.24-27
The gated residences of our time are similar to the walls of the ancient cities like Jerusalem even if made of different materials. They are meant to keep out those who do not know the entry password and to save us from unwanted intruders. There are other invisible means we use to keep people away from us but they do not rely on physical materials. Our lack of forgiveness as a result of conflicts and disagreements can isolate colleagues and even family members. Our prejudice can separate us from others in our community because of their race, beliefs or other differences. Our selfishness can prevent us from seeing the needs of others because we are so locked into our own comforts and those of our nearest and dearest.
Christ calls us today to put our money where our mouths are in terms of our faith. Paying lip service in prayer and liturgies is like building a home on quicksand. Prayer and worship that result from real Christian action on behalf of our neighbours is what Christ asks of us today. Sometimes we do not need a sign around our property saying Beware of Dog – our very attitude is a deterrent. Love and justice are the passwords to the kingdom of God. We may know the words but sometimes we don’t have the heart to press the right keys on the door.
Friday of Advent Week One – 5 December 2008   
Isaiah 29:17-24, Psalm 26:1.4.13-14, Matthew 9:27-31
The people of Lebanon are warm, hospitable and friendly. Their country had been scarred by war and terrorism. Trust between peoples of different faiths and nations who live there had been broken over the years. The Irish army, among others, developed an excellent relationship with the people on their peace missions over the years with the United Nations Forces. They worked to ensure the freedom of the people and as keepers of the peace. They were beacons of light in a darkened time of suspicion.
The prophet Isaiah was writing about a different time of trouble in the history of that country in today’s reading. He spoke of fertile land and forest. Signs of good fortune and development. This would happen when evil doers were destroyed, scoffers vanish and tyrants would be no more.
The blind men of the Gospel story were no scoffers. Jesus recognised their faith and healed them – restoring their sight. Around us we see things that we do not like in our society and if we take too negative a view on a regular basis we will be blinded to the many signs of goodness that abound. If we always see bad everywhere we are sure to see ourselves as bad also eventually. By the grace of God’s love in the Eucharist may we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the goodness in ourselves and may that be the springboard to recognising the goodness of others around us.
Saturday of Advent Week One – 6 December 2008
Isaiah 30:19-21.23-26, Psalm 146:1-6, Matthew 9:35 – 10:1. 6-8                          
A very dark winter day can be made brighter with candles, electricity and Christmas lights. Isaiah speaks of a time when the moonlight will be as bright as sunlight and sunlight itself be seven times brighter. This will happen on the day when the Lord dresses the wound of his people and heals our bruises.
When we are experiencing the darkness in our hearts because of a loss, an anxiety or an illness it is the loving concern and action of others that brightens our spirits and even gives us a reason to continue. When such a healing moment like this happens it is as if a light has shone into our hearts to the place where the pain was most felt.
We are the people who are called today to fulfil Christ’s mission of healing in our time. We have been sent into the harvest but very few of us have actually gone too far from the comfort of our own security blankets. We have tossed the odd coin of sympathy, relatively speaking, in the direction of poverty or world tragedy. We have become people who are willing to take all that our economic success gives us without the responsibility that such good fortune bestows. Yet our society suffers from that well known syndrome ‘cash rich – time poor’. Perhaps this time of recession will help us take stock of what really matters in life.
‘You received without charge give without charge’. This challenge is addressed to us today. In fulfilling the mission of Jesus to heal we are but honouring with our lives the Baptism into which we were initiated. We are the labourers today who have the responsibility to bring about the kingdom of light where the darkest corners are illuminated not by Christmas lights, that will be taken down when the next commercial project begins, but with love, compassion, justice honesty and truth.