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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. Most of us are familiar with the Twelve-Step programme that has helped countless people cope with addiction over many years. The second step states for the people in need of help; ‘We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity’. The third step then proceeds to say: ‘We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him’. What these two fundamental steps mean is that for the person caught in the slavery of addiction, they came to realise that they were in need of a saviour for they could not save themselves on their own. But is this not true for all of us? Do I need a saviour too? Do you? Does the world? These are important Advent questions – the season that prepares for the birth of the Saviour of the world.

First, recognising the need for a saviour begins with each one of us. It begins with me. When we take a good and honest look at ourselves we must acknowledge that we are a complex mix. On one hand there is much good, far more than bad. We have been made in the image of a good God and therefore the goodness of God has been planted in each of us. On the other hand, we know too well that there is something in us that should not be and that needs mending. There is a weakness in our human condition that we can’t overcome by ourselves. The effects of original sin are still with us and we fail time and time again despite our best efforts. Something in us is twisted out of shape and needs to be straightened out by something or someone beyond ourselves. It is not about being pessimistic but realistic. If we have any doubt about this then all we have to do is look into our own lives and look around us. Look at our world. Israel, Gaza, Ukraine. The list goes on. Everywhere we see evidence of a world not at rights with itself, a world out of kilter and somewhat dysfunctional.

Of course not everyone agrees with this assessment. For some, the need for a saviour is imagined. I am my own saviour, thank you very much. A title of a book published a few years ago gave this side of the argument: ‘I’m ok, you’re ok’. I don’t need a saviour, I don’t need God, I don’t need the Church. This is the spirit of the age and it remains in stark contrast to the spirit of Advent where we see our need for a Saviour and welcome that salvation in the person of Jesus Christ.

In a few weeks we will sing the Christmas carol ‘Silent Night’ where it says that ‘Christ the Saviour is born’. In this season of Advent we sing: ‘O come, o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel’. If Jesus Christ is only a good example for us, or a distant figure from the past, then we don’t know him. For unless we come to know him as Saviour, we do not know him at all. Even Mary knew him as Saviour: ‘My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’. So too with Peter when he began to sink in the water he cried out: ‘Lord, save me!’

All of us will know times when we have to admit that we can’t do it alone and that we are not in control anymore. There is a time for saying: ‘This is beyond me. I have done everything in my power. I can only hand it over to you Lord’. It could be a time of crisis, a sudden loss of a loved one or a job or even the realisation that I need God’s grace and spirit to guide me and uphold me throughout the coming day. For us, our higher power is God the Father who loves us and who delights in saving us.

This is what Advent and Christmas are all about. In the words of the first reading today, Advent is a time of returning to the potter’s wheel so that God can shape us more into the image of his Son. It is also a time to place our world on the potter’s wheel in our prayer so that God may fix what it clearly broken. This is not to absolve ourselves of responsibility to act and make a better world but to acknowledge the existence of structures and systems that lead to human oppression that we seem incapable of solving.

Advent is a time of re-connection to our faith in Christ our saviour. He is the only one who can do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. I need a saviour, you need a saviour and the world needs a saviour too. When we can feel this in our bones, we are in the spirit of Advent and know the truth of God’s Word proclaimed on Christmas night: ‘Today in Bethlehem, a Saviour has been born for us. He is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11).


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