Third Week of Advent

There is a dawning sense of panic when you have been confidently driving in a certain direction and realise you might be lost. You think that you have been here before – but only in the past 10 minutes. You are going round in circles. The first reaction is to think all is well and the buildings must look similar, and so you press on. But there is a growing feeling that you are lost, and then a certain stubbornness can grow, and you think it will be all right soon, when you arrive at the next village or turn of the road. Finally, you stop and check the map, and you realise you have no idea where you are. You really are lost.

There is a profound difference in life between being lost and not knowing it, and the moment when you accept you do not know where you are. Advent has little to say to people who don’t know they are lost. But it is the key to a new direction and hope for those who accept that they need to go in a different direction in their life.

In this Sunday’s first reading, Isaiah (35:1-6) reassures us that God will “strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees and say to all faint hearts: ‘Courage. Do not be afraid,’ ”. For “the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unsealed”. The unease we experience when we are lost can be a fundamental building block of the spiritual life. We can never become who we are meant to be until we have a sense that something is missing in our life.

When I was vocations director, a common reason why many started their journey of discernment was the realisation that “there must be more to life than this”. We must acknowledge this sense of loss, this unease. In this time of waiting for the Lord, we should be open and honest. St James tells us to “be patient brothers, until the Lord’s coming … do not lose heart, because the Lord’s coming is soon”.

It is very often the patience that can be our greatest test. We know something is not right, and we want the solution to our problem right now. St James (5:7-10) is telling us not to lose heart. But the unease can lead to a dread and fear: when will things change? Is this all there is in my life?

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