Many today live without much hope for the future
. Their future is rather bleak, if not hopeless. They are not in good health. They have financial woes and debts to clear. On the family front, there is squabbling and cold war among members of the family, including between parents. At work, there is so much politics and worst of all, harassment and discrimination by colleagues and superiors. They are picked at all the time and humiliated. In studies, they are not doing well and are alone without any support. In such situations, it is no wonder they feel like giving up. They are still in the tunnel with no sign of light yet. An early death is what they expect and hope. But God is not going to allow us to give up hope and life so easily.
Today, the scripture readings exhort us to believe in the future. There is a future for all of us. Every birth is a sign of hope. Every child born means that God is with us. Children give us hope for the future. What we cannot do, we hope they will be able to do when they grow up. The folks of Zechariah remarked, “What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.” So long as there are children, the future of humanity is secured. That is why when married couples choose not to have any children, they are telling us that this world has no future. So why bring children into this world and let them suffer? Many couples are thus living just for today and for themselves because there is no future beyond themselves.
Why is there no sense of the future? Why this apathy? The self-centeredness of man and his egotism makes him lose hope of the future. He is always thinking about himself and he thinks he can do all things by his own power. When he comes to a situation and finds that he is not so powerful after all, then he falls into depression. A sickness can strike, business can collapse, family tragedy can happen. When confronted with insurmountable obstacles, after giving up on God, he has no one to turn to except death and destruction.
Gratitude is the presupposition of hope. When we are grateful, we have happy memories of past events in our lives. We remember all the good things the Lord has done for us. Knowing God is gracious will spare us much anxiety for we know He will bless us. So we have the example of Mary who in yesterday’s gospel sang in thanksgiving for God’s mercy, not just towards her but towards Israel as well. Today, Elizabeth too was filled with gratitude at God’s benevolence. “Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zachariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’”
When John the Baptist was born, Zechariah, who had been silent all this while as he was struck dumb, opened his lips to pronounce God’s gracious. He asked “for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John’. And they were all astonished. At that instant, his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God.” What a significant reminder for all that God is gracious. This memory is more important than remembering his family line. Zechariah and his wife were not bothered whether their family line would become extinct with the death of their only son. For them, the fact that they could conceive a child at their old age and barren too, means that their future is now totally in the hands of God. It is not in their hands. They knew that only God can determine their future. Hence, there was no need to insist that the child takes on the name of Zechariah to continue the past. Rather, with the name, John, “God is gracious”, it means there will always be a future. God will look after them. God who is gracious will ensure their survival and continuity. And so indeed, they are remembered forever in humanity and in the scriptures.
God too has been gracious to us in so many ways. Have we forgotten the many times when the Lord was gracious to us and helped us again and again? Before you count your woes and lose focus, count your blessings and you will see sufferings in the context of blessings and joys. We all have our trials and challenges in life. But we have received far more countless blessings and gifts from the Lord. He has given us life and relatively good health. We have a comfortable shelter and we are not living under the heat of the sun, like the refugees. We have more than enough food to sustain and enjoy as well.
Indeed, the Lord is always gracious even when we forget His goodness, like the Israelites who returned from exile in today’s first reading. They never learnt from their history and the lessons that history had taught them. In a short time, they lost faith in God and continued with their sinful life. Many were not serious in their worship of God. They forgot so quickly how gracious God was to them, that whenever they cried, the Lord heard them. In spite of our incorrigibility, when we sin, the Lord continues to send us prophets and messengers to free us from sin and lead us to repentance. “Know that I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before my day comes, that great and terrible day. He shall turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the hearts of children towards their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse.” Most of all, Christ gives Himself to us not just in the sacraments but especially in the Eucharist.
If there is no gratitude in our hearts, it is simply because there is no real repentance or conviction that our sins are hurting us deeply and our loved ones, slowly but surely. Many take the sacrament of reconciliation for granted. During Advent and Lent, many go for the Penitential service but very few are really prepared for confession. They did not take time to reflect on their actions, do a proper examen so that they can learn and recognize their mistakes and weaknesses. Because self-awareness is not there, there can be no true conversion of heart and mind. A superficial encounter with Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation can hardly change lives. We need to reflect on His love and mercy, especially at the birth of our Lord to understand and appreciate the utter sacrifice and love of God for us. This will help us to avoid taking God’s grace for granted, given at the price of His Son’s life.
The Lord is near. The psalmist exhorts us,“Stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.” He is coming again and again, not just in the past. “Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me. And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple; and the angel of the covenant whom you are longing for, yes, he is coming, says the Lord of host.” God is gracious. He comes in the future. He comes here and now whenever we open our eyes to recognize Him in our fellowmen and in every event of our lives; He enters into our hearts whenever we are open to His love and mercy. Let us welcome the Lord into our lives. “Who will be able to resist the day of his coming? Who will remain standing when he appears? For his is like the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ alkali. He will take his sear as the refiner and the purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made.” Let us not resist His coming if we want to find hope for the future.
We are ready to welcome the Lord if we listen to His word, and live accordingly.With the psalmist, we pray “Lord, make me know your ways. Lord, teach me your paths. Make me walk in your truth, and teach me: for you are God my saviour. The Lord is good and upright. He shows the path to those who stray, He guides the humble in the right path, He teaches his way to the poor. His ways are faithfulness and love for those who keep his covenant and law. The Lord’s friendship is for those who revere him; to them he reveals his covenant.” So take courage. He is near. He is here in our hearts. Come let us adore Him, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end for all time belongs to Him, forever and ever.