For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.” (Romans 15:4-9)
God created us in order to love us. He is love – his essence is to love eternally. None of us can say: “No one cares about me” or “no one is interested in me”. It doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor, attractive or plain, young or elderly, we are always the focal point of God’s love. What does he ask of us in return? Nothing less and nothing more than to love him in return! This gives our lives meaning and purpose – God becomes the focal point of our love. Everything in heaven and on earth is a continuous call, an opportunity and invitation to love. We are set on fire with love from the moment that a lasting and passionate love embraces us – and we feel it. Always the same exchange – love for love!
All you have made will praise you, O Lord; your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendour of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. (Psalm 145:10-13)
We cannot imagine the importance of learning to see ourselves and every human being as God Himself sees us. If only we could become aware again of how great and special each and every human person is in the sight of God! In spite of all our weaknesses and inner poverty, we all are extremely valuable in God’s sight. We are not “products of chance”, we are not “accidents”, but products of the never-ending love and wisdom of God. Enjoy it!
This is what the Lord says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains…” (Isaiah 48:17-19)
God has always thought of us as an original reflection of Jesus. Each one of us is called to imitate Christ in a completely unique and original way. Each one of us reflects God in a special way – each according to his or her own possibilities and personality. For this reason, every human being has an individual dignity as an original reflection of Christ. Every child in the womb is already an original reflection of God. We may not and dare not kill God, therefore we may also not kill the original and unique image of God, the unborn child. We are not interchangeable parts of a huge machine, to be used and discarded at will. We are images of the God who created us and called us into being. We are not the “spare parts”, we are all an original “thought of God” from eternity. Someone was thinking about us even before we were ever born or existed – and that someone was the Lord. Can anything or anyone stop us from being extremely happy today?
I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. (Psalm 34:1-3)
God has a plan of love, power and wisdom for us. Advent graces should make us sensitive so that we can see God behind the events of our lives, even when these experiences are difficult or painful. God knows that he cannot place a cross on our shoulders if we are not able to carry it. There is a popular story about someone who had a very heavy cross to bear. He spoke to the Lord about it, and God told him to put his cross down and look for a cross that he could carry. Around him he saw a huge collection of crosses. He took his time and examined the different crosses; he tried one and then another. One cross was far too heavy, another was far too light. Finally he found a cross that fitted perfectly. He knew he would be able to carry that cross with dignity. When God saw which cross he had chosen, he smiled with a great love at the man. Then he said: “The cross you have chosen is the same one that you came in with originally!” The cross that God gives us is the only one that will really “fit”. In these Advent days we ask God to give us the peace and openness we need to discover him in every experience of our lives. When we discover him, we find again the amazing heart of God – a heart full of love, a heart full of wisdom, a heart full of power. Can we offer our shoulders to carry someone else’s cross?
Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of evil and cruel men. For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you. (Psalm 71:3-6)
We are all a unique “result” of God’s plan – his plan of love, wisdom and power. God has an original purpose for each one of us. In general terms, his purpose is that we imitate Christ to the best of our abilities here on earth, and then share in God’s divine life forever in heaven. The original way in which each of us “becomes like Jesus” unfolds according to his plan for us. Consider, for example, the life and times of Joseph of Egypt – the famous interpreter of dreams (see Genesis Chapters 37-50). At the beginning of his story he had a dream in which God showed him his destiny in life. The sun, moon and stars all bowed before him. He told this dream to his brothers, who for obvious reasons were not particularly happy at the thought that they should bow before him. So they sold him, made him a slave of the pagans. But they didn’t change God’s plan for Joseph. In fact, they were actually realizing his plan by doing this. He was put into prison. He had to suffer, and must have asked himself if this was truly God’s plan for him. Our human reasoning questions: Well how can this be fulfilling God’s plan when everything seems to be going wrong? However, we know how the Lord uses every situation, even when it looks dire and hopeless, to realize his plan step by step. God is not easily put off. Joseph then interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh and his destiny was fulfilled. He became, after Pharaoh, the most important and influential man in Egypt and later ended up saving his own family from famine and death. God took him by the hand. He guided him in wisdom. There is so much we do not understand in our lives: Fate, sorrow and happiness, health and sickness – they are all mysteries. The wisdom of God is behind each and every event of our lives. He has a purpose for us and his plan will reach its final conclusion in eternity. Sorrow and the cross, suffering and sin, failures and guilt – God can use everything to reach the purpose he has foreseen for us. He knows us inside out, he knows what our passions are, what motivates us, as does no one and nothing else on this earth, he knows what our choices and decisions will be. All this is included in his plan.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:3-5)
Advent longing is a sign of the purpose of our personal journey of faith – that each one of us becomes an original reflection of Jesus in our own lives. Each one of us is called to become “another Jesus”. John’s Gospel proclaims the history-making message: “And the word became flesh…” (John 1:14). Jesus desires to “become flesh” in us. We make him present and active in the world through the way we live. We are his presence in the world. This image of Jesus is unique to each one of us. God knows already what original image of Christ we will become. He sees not only the day of our birth, or how we will get through the many storms of life, he also sees us in eternity, sharing completely in his divine life. God gradually unfolds his original image of Jesus in us according to his plan. The aim of Advent longing is to help us become an original image of God’s love, wisdom and power. St Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, once described the redeemed person in this way: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In Christ we see the dawning of a new age and the creation of new life within. This new creation means that we live from the conviction that our entire existence comes from Jesus; we share the life of Jesus, we live like Jesus, we try to think and love like Jesus. If someone is “in Christ”, he or she becomes a new person altogether. We always keep looking for the new dawn, new possibilities, new life. We are all created in the “image and likeness of God” – each one in his or her own specific and original way. Our individual originality as “another Jesus” unfolds in our lives according to God’s purpose. What do we know about God’s plan? Firstly, we know that his plan is a plan of love. We are all “products” of God’s love. That’s why we yearn for love ourselves. We want to be loved, we need to be loved, and we also want to love others in return. Love is the key to understanding God; it is also the key to understanding the human person. Secondly, God’s plan is a plan of wisdom. Even when things look bleak or confusing, even when the situation is dire and we can’t find God, or see a “light at the end of the tunnel” – God is still unfolding his plan of wisdom in our lives. No one could create a better plan for us – ever. When suffering and troubles, hurts and disappointments come along, we would surely be able to bear them more easily if we believed and trusted that even these difficult experiences and situations are part of the Lord’s plan for us. Thirdly, God’s plan is a plan of power. Nothing can stop him from realizing his plan in us. His ways are often hidden, and he will use every path we take, every stone or obstacle that is placed before us, every unexpected occurrence and experience, every choice we make, to realize his great purpose for our lives more and more. We are all the “result” of his love, wisdom and mighty power.
Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord. Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. (Psalm 35:4-9)
Our hunger for God finds its beginnings in the powerful reality of God’s personal love for us. The Prophet Jeremiah proclaimed the awesome truth: “ “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness ” (Jeremiah 31:3). God’s passionate love for us sparks off the longing in every human heart. He has loved us with “an everlasting love”, he thought about us and looked upon us with “an everlasting love”. We will always feel the longing for the eternal in us, because we too want to love for eternity. What is our response to God’s everlasting love? As long as we are not fully united to him, as long as we cannot yet look upon the face of God, we pray with the Psalmist: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2f). One day our longings will find an answer.