RELIGION: The joy that sin promises is illusory and short lived


It is appropriate that this season of Advent, which is for us a journey of preparation for the celebration of Christmas, is filled with stories of journeys. There is the classic story of the Wise Men setting out from their distant kingdoms in their search for the new born King of the Jews, or the story of Our Lady’s journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth to share with one another the joy of their pregnancies. There is the story of the journey to Bethlehem itself by Joseph and Mary where she was to give birth. All of these stories can shed a little the light of faith on our own journeys, not just of Advent, but our journey through life.
Last Sunday’s readings make mention of another of those journeys; this time it is the journey of Israel back from their exile to the promised land. But it is not just a story of a return from physical exile, it is also a story of their return from spiritual exile, the exile of sin and disobedience. The prophet speaks of a people renewed by their time in exile, a people who have found peace because they have begun to live with integrity, a people who are honourable because they live with devotedness, they now live faithfully and they honour the covenant made between God and their ancestors. They are no longer a rebellious people and so now they will know the integrity of God; he in his turn will be faithful to the covenant and because the people are now seeking to observe the commands of the Law, he will show mercy to their occasional sin.
The hardship of the exile was a time of renewal for the people when they recognised where they had been going wrong in their life and began to seek again the will of God and to observe his commandments. That story is continued with the coming of John the Baptist, preparing the way for the coming of Christ. It is a story that is repeated in the lives of all who have faith. This life of ours is in differing ways a time of exile, a time when we face hardships and the struggles of life, a time when, hopefully, we learn the value of living with integrity and the joy of living with honour and uprightness even if others around us have chosen a different path.
The joy that sin promises is illusory and short lived, whereas the joy that comes from a life lived honestly and with honour does not quickly fade away and will bear fruit in eternal life. But the problem we face is two-fold: Will we hear and understand the hope that the voice calling out is offering to us and will we recognise that we are living in a wilderness and are in need of that hope? We need the honesty to face the reality of life and not hide from it and seek to immerse ourselves in the business of daily life to avoid acknowledging the senselessness of life. That can be a long and painful journey; an exile, a time spent in Egypt where the Israelites convinced themselves they were better off as persecuted slaves rather than a free people. The joys that this world can offer us are limited and end in the tears of death. But can we believe in the hope that our faith offers us? In the face of so much pain and sorrow that surrounds us, can we see the hope and believe in it. Perhaps in the darkness it is only in the innocence of the Christ child that we can see and believe in the salvation that even in the wilderness is sending up new shoots of life.

Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton


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