Today we celebrate the beginning of the Church’s new year. We light the first candle, which represents hope. The reading from Isaiah dates from the time when the Jews returned from exile in Babylon. It should have been a time of rejoicing but instead they were lamenting. The city of Jerusalem and the Temple were in ruins. They felt that they had been punished for their sins and that God had deserted them. It is a reading that resonates deeply with us at the moment. We may not see the Covid virus as punishment from God but rather a result of human activity. Likewise we look at the catastrophes brought about by climate change and our environmental failures in Ireland. However we know that God loves us, cares for us and never abandons us. Jesus’ words in the gospel tell us to be awake, a theme that has been repeated in the last few Sundays.
Advent is a penitential season, symbolised by the purple vestments worn by the priest. However it is also a season of joy because we are looking forward to new beginnings with the birth of a child, represented by the white candle in the middle of the wreath. The evergreen leaves remind us of the Christian virtue of hope. A birth of any child brings a new start to a household and everything has to change. The birth of this child however, unmarked as it was in the pomp and triumphalism of the Roman Empire, upsets cherished human values. God’s Word lies in a manger, because he so loved the world. What better reason to hope than this?