Today’s first reading at Mass is taken from Isaiah 35.1–10. Who can fail to be moved by the note of exultant joy that runs throughout? All creation will be renewed and
the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
the ears of the deaf unsealed,
then the lame shall leap like a deer
and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.
For those of us among the weary and faint-hearted whom the prophet exhorts to have courage and not be afraid, however, it is not quite so easy. We cannot pretend to a joy and confidence we do not feel, so what are we to do?
I think this is where we confront the difference between what we might call ‘head faith’ and ‘heart faith’. We know in faith that our Redeemer is coming, has indeed come and transformed everything, but we do not feel it. We are just as prone to weariness as if salvation did not exist. We see ourselves committing the same sins, falling into the same depression of spirits, struggling with the same temptations and experiencing the same exhaustion.
Sometimes the reasons for weariness can be physical. For example, I’m due another round of chemotherapy this week and know it will leave me feeling tired and unwell for some days afterwards. I shall not be a little ray of sunshine to myself or anyone else! Sometimes the reasons have more to do with our emotions. When we are grieving or deeply hurt, we simply cannot summon up joy or confidence or any other positive feeling. We know only the ache of loss and the bitterness of sorrow. What I think we have to remember is that salvation comes to us — our Saviour comes to us — precisely where we are, as we are. The coming of Christ will not magic away the nausea and exhaustion of chemotherapy any more than it will restore someone who has died to us. What it will do, if we allow it, is to change our perception and understanding. Instead of railing against life, we shall be given the grace to embrace it, even when it is hard and difficult. Instead of giving up, we shall be enabled to carry on. These are not spectacular graces, but they are very necessary ones.
If your life is going through something of a desert phase at the moment, be encouraged. However weary or faint-hearted you may feel, there is the certainty that God has not forgotten you and is not indifferent to your plight. One day you will see the prophecy fulfilled and be numbered among those who
. . . will come to Zion shouting for joy,
everlasting joy on their faces;
joy and gladness will go with them
and sorrow and lament be ended.
As we pray throughout Advent, Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!