On A Fresh Start
[Isa.2:1-5; Rom.13:11-14; Mt.24:37-44]
Would you like a fresh start? Would you like a chance to begin again, avoiding the mistakes and the pain of the past?
Consider the story of the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-81). At the age of 27 he was jailed for his politics, and eight months later he and his fellow prisoners were taken outside to be shot.
Before the execution, they were given a cross to kiss and a chance for confession. They were then lined up, the soldiers took aim and a drum roll sounded. And suddenly, out of the blue, a messenger from the Tsar rode in on a horse with a pardon.
Miraculously, they were all given a second chance at life. In a letter to his brother, Dostoevsky later described how he had changed: ‘When I look back on my past and think how much time I wasted on nothing, how much time has been lost in futilities, errors, laziness, incapacity to live; how little I appreciated it, how many times I sinned against my heart and soul – then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift, life is happiness, every minute can be an eternity of happiness’. [i]
His priorities changed completely when he faced his own mortality (Prov.4:25-27).
Someone else who needed a fresh start was Dublin-born Matthew Talbot (1856-1925). He started drinking at the age of 12, and 16 years later he was a chronic alcoholic, broke and deeply in debt.
One night in 1884 he faced the truth that he could no longer afford to drink. He went home and promised his mother that he would ‘take the pledge’. He kept that promise, and dedicated the rest of his life to prayer and charitable works. He’s now being considered for sainthood. [ii]
At some point in our lives every one of us needs a second chance. But we don’t need a firing squad or a chronic hangover to force the process.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent and the start of a brand new liturgical year. Advent is always a time for renewal and new birth, and so this is an ideal opportunity for each of us to pause for a while, to think about our lives and to consider how we might do things better.
In our second reading today, St Paul says, ‘Wake up! The time has come!’ None of us is getting any younger, and we know that one day we’ll all be held accountable. So now is a good time to start afresh.
Ask yourself: am I a better person now than I was 12 months ago? Can I honestly say that I am improving as a person with the passing of each Christmas? And is my relationship with Jesus growing? Or am I stagnating?
The truth is that every one of us can do better.
Martin Luther King Jr said that the first step in any journey must be taken in faith. ‘You don’t have to see the whole staircase,’ he said, ‘just take the first step’.
As we take that first step, our faith doesn’t have to be strong (Lk.17:6; Mt.17:20). Real faith grows when we stand honestly and humbly before God as we really are, sharing with him what we think and how we feel.
And as we go through the process of change (for a new start always involves change), it’s worth remembering that God always has our best interests at heart (Is.43:18-19; Jn.10:10). And he will help us if we let him (Phil.4:13). That’s important to remember as we face our failures and let some things go (we know what needs to go).
In 2018, Pope Francis said that Advent has three dimensions: the past, the present and the future, and we would be wise to reflect on each of them.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. Why did he do that, and what does that truth mean for us today?
Jesus will also return sometime in the future – at the end of the world, and at the end of our own lives. Are we ready for him?
And finally, Jesus comes to us each day, in the present, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. [iii] He is present in the Church (1Cor.12:12-14), in the Eucharist (Mt.26:26-27) and in the faces of everyone we meet (Mt.25:40).
When we prayerfully reflect on these three dimensions of Jesus Christ, we are actually opening the door to a new beginning for ourselves (2Cor.5:17).
If Advent is only a time for us to buy gifts and to plan our Christmas holidays and parties, then we’ve missed the point.
There’s really only one gift of any importance at Christmas, and that gift is Jesus.
Jesus is the key to a fresh start. The only fresh start that really matters.