The Advent readings glitter with bright promises – promises of the wonderful things that would accompany the coming of the Messiah. Mountains would be leveled out, valleys filled in, winding roads made straight, the desert would bloom, the poor would see justice done, the weak would no longer be exploited, war would be banished from the face of the earth.
Christ has come, yet little seems to have changed. So we might well ask: What has become of the great promises? Were they mere mirages? Look at the state of the world. Famine still plagues humankind, the poor are still exploited, and world-wide peace is still an elusive dream.
The Bible shows us that God’s people are led forward by promises. Promises play a big part in our lives. A promise gives people hope. It gives them a goal to aim at. It motivates and energizes them. It makes them struggle for something. This is a good thing. People who have no goal are aimless. It is when people are satisfied that they stagnate. The settled, satisfied person fails to develop further.
The central theme of Advent is that of the faithfulness of God. In spite of the infidelities of his people, God did not forget the covenant he made with their father, Abraham. The Advent liturgy makes us aware of God’s faithful love for us, and the wonderful gift he has made to us in Jesus. The wonderful promises of the prophets are not just promises. They are judgments too. Hence, Advent is not so much about the past as about the present. It awakens us to the presence among us of the Savior. It reveals his true identity and the nature of his mission, which is to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. We have a vital part to play in making this Kingdom a reality. Advent provides us with a great opportunity to commit ourselves anew to Jesus and his Kingdom.
The new world (the Kingdom of God) was established first of all in Christ himself. He is the new creation. Here we have humanity restored to the true image of God. Then, through his words and deeds, Christ inaugurated the Kingdom in the world. Through his Church he continues this work. We must not sit around waiting for these promises to fall from the sky. They are a blueprint of what humankind could achieve by the grace of God, given so lavishly in Christ.
The world is crying out for salvation. Isaiah’s vision lives on in our midst as a task for today and a promise for tomorrow.