1st Sunday of Advent, Year B

We have two beautiful homilies by Father Hanly for 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B: “Hope in Times of Darkness” and “With You Always.”

Two Homilies:

Hope in Times of Darkness

Hope in Times of Darkness

Father Hanly’s beautiful homily for 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B, is about hope in times of darkness. Skip to  Recording or Transcript.

Readings for First Sunday of Advent, Year B

  • First Reading: Isaiah 63:16-17, 19
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
  • Second Reading: First Corinthians 1:3-9
  • Gospel: Mark 13:33-37



When I was a child I used to long for Christmas so much that I promised myself that I’d never run away from home unless it was right after Christmas. (Congregation laughs.)

Also it seemed in those days that a child’s yearning makes the days longer, because it seemed like Christmas came every three years. But now that I’ve reached the ancient age of seventy six, it seems like Christmas comes about every other Thursday. (Congregation laughs.)

Advent has always been a happy time for most people, even in difficult times, because there is something about Christmas and the coming of the Messiah and the coming of the Lord, and the realization of all the promises that God has made to His people find their fulfillment in a stable, a little child, a poor young teenage mother and her gravely worried husband into whose care God had placed this most precious twosome.

I think there’s something that stirs great hope in us. And so Advent is really a time for hope. It’s a time when we put aside major worries in our life and realize that God is with us.

This year Pope Benedict wrote his second encyclical on hope. And it’s a beautiful, short but beautiful, document. And he says for a Christian to have hope means to know that we are definitely loved, and that, whatever happens to us, we are awaited by love.

In the First Reading today, we have words from the prophet Isaiah.

It’s written, this section of Isaiah is written, at the time when the Jewish people were up in Babylon and praying to God that they would be able to return to their own country and rebuild their temple and once again be at peace in their own homes.

It was a desperate time because they were enslaved. It was a time when many felt that God had abandoned them.

And that’s why Isaiah says, “Would that you would rend the heavens and come down as you did in the olden days with Moses and the people who were in slavery in Egypt and the wonders that you did.

“Why do you not see us? Yes, we have sinned, but you are a forgiving God, you care for us. Why do you hide from us? Is it that you’re angry with us?”

Of course, the thing that makes this a lovely passage is to know that, in the harshest and most difficult of times, the prophet is speaking like a man in terrible need of God Himself. Not just to know that God exists, but to feel His strength, to feel that He is once again manifesting Himself to His people.

And where do we find this hidden God?

Well, there’s an old story about Omar the candle maker.

Omar the candle maker is outside his house and he’s busy looking through the grass. He’s feverishly looking for something when his neighbour comes and he says, “Omar, what are you looking for?”

And he says, “I lost my wallet and I’m trying to find my wallet.”

And his friend says, “Well, where did you lose it?”

He says, “I lost it in my house, in my bedroom.”

And he says, “Well, why aren’t you in your house and bedroom searching for it?”

And he says, “Oh, it’s too dark in there. It’s much nicer to search out here in the sunshine.”

The meaning of this story is that we’re always looking for God in the wrong places.

We look for Him very often when there’s something lovely — like maybe we win the Mark 6 and it’s a sign of the presence of God and how blessed we all are for having this kind of opportunity.

And yet, it’s always looking in the wrong place.

Because, very often and for good reason, we find God not so much in the happy days of our lives, we find God when we’re alone and suddenly darkness closes in on our life and we begin to wonder and have doubts about not only the future but also the present. And then we begin very simply to pray.

And this is the right thing.

Because you see the Advent candles that we light up here, there’s four candles — three are violet coloured, meaning that the three prepare us for the coming of Christmas, and the pink one is one of joy that Christmas is with us.

But a candle only, only, shows its true nature and its true value in darkness. We don’t put candles around with all the lights on. It is when we turn the lights off that a candle begins to glow and give us hope.

And that is why at Christmas time we fill our homes with candles. But most of all because of the prophecy that says Jesus is the light of the world and he comes in a very special way at Christmas time.

This is an indication that the problems that face us and the difficulties that face us, and especially in these present times — the news of the last few weeks and it seems like not only the world is full of trepidation and fear because of the onset of perhaps a more bleak future and a difficult future and a future where there will be lots of pain — and at this time we begin to shirk and to shrink back from it, for we do not want anything to disturb perhaps the way we have been going. We wonder what will happen to us.

And so we sound like Isaiah in the First Reading, the beginning when Isaiah is saying, “You must show your face. Why haven’t you come down and delivered us? We are in very difficult times.”

And what Isaiah gives them is the word of God.

And the word of God is, “I have never left you. I am with you.

“I am more bright as a candle that shines in the darkness in your life now than perhaps I was when you were following other lights and other ways, when you thought that, perhaps, that life was a matter of controlling it, instead of forgetting that you do not control anything important in life, that you are vulnerable and needy.

“Because only when you realize that you are not in control of things and you recognize your own vulnerability and your own need, is love possible.”

And what kind of life is worthwhile without love, true love, the love that Jesus comes — poor, rejected, alone, but the light for the whole world to understand that God comes to share the darkness and share the pain that we might have new life and new strength to it.

Many people are slightly in tears in the last few days and they say, “What happened? How can God do this to us?”

God isn’t what brought on this crisis. God is the solution, the response to this crisis, when no matter what happens we must remember, as the Pope says, to have hope is to know that we are definitely loved and cherished and cared for — definitely loved and cherished and cared for — and that whatever happens to us, whatever path we are asked to walk to another part of our lives, what awaits us is God and His love. And with this we make each other strong.

The second thing about difficult times is perhaps a realisation that maybe we have been preoccupied by a lot of false gods around us. Maybe we have invested our hope in success, our hope in riches, our hope in never seeing pain.

Maybe these are the gods that have to come crashing down before we once again realize that we are here to share love, compassion, perfection.

We are here to make a new world. Each generation must build a new world so that we come closer and closer to the final coming of the Lord.

And that is the Second Coming, the coming at the end of time.

But the one that comes at the end of time must be brought to us by our own good selves.

Jewish mothers, praying for the Messiah, used to say to their children, “Every good deed that you do, brings the Messiah one step closer.”

And that, perhaps, is the challenge of difficulty.

Two things can happen.

Number one is we shirk and fear and each day we worry more and more about what is going to happen — and we live in the future. And those who live in the future, die in the present.

Or perhaps we have so many regrets of what brought this on or what brought that on — and we live in the past. And the past is already gone and we’ll always be chasing shadows that breed only guilt.

What Advent is saying is we must live now with faith. We must live now with love. And what drives you on to live with faith and to share love is hope. Hope is the great virtue.

I’d like to read to you a poem by Charles Péguy. He wrote a poem. I’m told that it is seventy-six pages long. And it’s probably the greatest masterpiece of any poet in the 20th century. He died in the First World War on the battlefield, but he left this beautiful poem. And I will just read you one small bit.

“I am, says God, master of the three virtues: Faith, Charity and Hope.
Faith is like a faithful wife.
Charity is the ardent mother.
But Hope is a little girl.

I am, says God, the master of virtues.
Faith is she who remains steadfast through centuries and centuries.
Love is she who gives herself during centuries and centuries.
But my little Hope is she who rises every morning.

I am, says God, the Lord of virtues.
Faith is she who remains firm and strong.
Charity is she who unbends during centuries and centuries.
But my little Hope is she who every morning wishes me good day.”

It is true that the most important of all things that hold us close to God is not faith — men can live without faith. It is not love — men can live without love. But no-one can live without hope.

And so difficult times make us aware that of these three virtues, the least known, the least talked about, the one that we always feel is like a little child, is the one who feeds Faith, and the one who gives joy to Love.

And so it is the little girl that we ask God to grace us with — the humble little girl who says every morning is a new day. She calls Faith good morning and calls Love to the morning.

And this is what it means to prepare for Christmas:

To help each other as we go through these difficult times, but with hope in our hearts. A hope that feeds the deep faith that we must recommit ourselves to our friends and to people and to the world in which God is.

And, also, that we commit ourselves to reaching out in love and caring and compassion.

And, most of all, with a joyful, light heart, because Hope is a little girl who gets up every morning and wishes us good day.

With You Always

With You Always

In this beautiful homily for 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B, Father Hanly reminds us that God has not left us, and that remembering him makes him present and makes us continue on the road together with him into eternal life.

Readings for First Sunday of Advent, Year B

  • First Reading: Isaiah 63:16-17, 19
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
  • Second Reading: First Corinthians 1:3-9
  • Gospel: Mark 13:33-37



Another Christmas is upon us. And Christmas begins with a penitential season. The penitential season is four Sundays of Advent.

But everybody, all of us are so caught up in what happens after the introduction of the four Sundays — which is Christmas and Christmas Day and Christmas night and all the lovely things, from childhood on, that we have come to love and to embrace — so it’s really not a penitential season in the same way as Lent is.

Lent demands of us that we turn our lives around, that we become what we should become, which is total and complete dedication to Jesus, who takes us by the hand and walks us through our life and brings us safely home.

You notice up the front that we have the Advent wreath. The Advent wreath is a very, very popular way of expressing those four Sundays. And the circle, as you know, the circle of the fir tree, the circle represents God Himself, because the circle has no beginning and no end.

The tree, the leaves itself, the adornment comes from Germany. The Germans have these wonderful forests and they have wonderful trees. And around this time, we also get the Christmas tree in many places, cutting down the tree and bringing it home etc.

But for us the tree is evergreen, another sign that Advent is a time to remember that it will not pass — the leaves will not fall away because the leaves are the leaves of life. And God keeps them as signs and symbols that we shall, and are destined to, live forever.

As you know, there are four candles. Three candles are purple, which is the sign of penitential rites. And the third one, which is the third Sunday, is usually, this one looks a little orangey, but it’s usually red, because red in the old Church is a sign, as it is in China, of great joy, and it’s called Gaudete.

Gaudete Sunday means let us all sing and dance, because, even though it is the penitential season, the little child’s birth is almost upon us and it kind of wipes away any kind of sadness that we ourselves might feel at this time for our sins.

Probably one of the most beautiful pieces of scripture is the beginning, the scripture that was read in the First Reading. It is from Isaiah the Prophet and, basically, it sets the scene for the great joy of Christmas.

It is taken at a time when the Jews were surrounded by enemies, and the threat of Babylon, and the threat of the Assyrians and all of these nations, was very strong.

And there were many ways of addressing this, and some was: let us get our armies together and go to war or make alliances or these kinds of things. And Isaiah was a member of really the staff in the palace and, of course, he was saying that God is telling us no war, not to go to war.

At the same time, the place is in turmoil and everybody is afraid of what’s going to happen in the future. And it’s so bad that you can feel it when Isaiah writes this passage. And I’m going to read part of it again. He says to his people…

At this terrible time…

Now, you must remember that they’re under great peril, and a few very short number of years will pass by and they will be taken en masse to Babylon, the ones that weren’t totally killed and destroyed in Jerusalem, in the fall of Jerusalem, they will be brought to Babylon in captivity.

And so (this is very touching) Isaiah is the beautiful Christmas poet. He’s the one that always speaks of joy and the one who always speaks of faith, and almost with a childlike melodic, poetic love, speaks about his people.

But now is the time for destruction. And that is why he says, “Dear Lord (now he’s talking to God)

You, LORD, are our father,
our redeemer
you are named forever.
Why do you let us wander, O
LORD, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.

He kind of blames God, who seems to be sulking in heaven and not coming down to do anything about it.

He blames Him for the hardening of the hearts, because the people have gone away from their observances of worship of the true Lord and have gone in one way or another. And he says, “Oh Lord, you have hardened our hearts and that is why we have gone astray.”

Then he says these most quoted words:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,

It’s as if God had gone away, and now He’s up in heaven and looking down, but His back is turned to them.

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.
No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you
doing such deeds for those who wait for him.

He’s talking about when, in the early days, when it seemed that the people would perish in Egypt, yet God rescued them through miracles and wonders and wonderful power, and how He led them through the desert for forty years and He brought them safely into the new land and all these things.

He says, “Why doesn’t that happen?” Isaiah is saying, “Have you abandoned us?”

Would that you might meet us doing right,

And then he says, “If you come and see us now from up there in heaven, you’re going to find… It would nice if we were doing the right thing, a decent people, and caring for each other and loving each other, but we’re not. Would that you might meet us doing the right thing and caring for each other.”

that we were mindful of you in our ways!

“… that we thought of you, we worshipped you.

But we’re totally ignoring you.”

And now you get the feeling that the one prophet is standing between God’s wrath and the people.

Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful;

“We are without love.”

And he says, “And rightfully so, you should be angry with us, because we do not care and we do not show concern for others and we do not love.”

all of us have become like unclean people,
all our good deeds are like polluted rags;
we have all withered like leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
There is none who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to cling to you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have delivered us up to our guilt.

Then, of course, the great line:

Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.

What he says is, “Despite how terrible we are, how miserable we are, what we want you to do is to forgive us and we surrender.

“You have made us, you have formed us like a potter forms the clay, and we are the work of your hands.”

And he wants, Isaiah, “Don’t forget this, never forget this!”

And what happens?

The people are saved. He does come. He comes down in a very, very special way. Not right away, but the little child is born and the great promises are kept, that God loves His people even when they turn their back, even when they walk away, even when they are not ready. And yet the end of the story is Bethlehem.

And so it is that a little girl, a teenage girl, conceives the greatest of all gifts, God’s Son, because God so loved the world He gave His Son. God’s Son is conceived and born, and he is the Saviour of the world.

That’s why, in Advent, what you’re supposed to do is nothing. You’re not supposed to run around and say prayers and do this and do that. You’re supposed to do nothing, absolutely nothing.

Well, what are you supposed to do?

You’re supposed to wait.

And what do you wait for?

You wait, and as you wait, you’re like a waiter, very, very aware of everything that’s going on around you. You’re not making any big moves or small moves. You are, but you’re still waiting and waiting and waiting.

And suddenly that waiting bursts out in the birth of the Messiah. And the only ones that accept the Messiah are the nervous Joseph, a Mary who’s only a teenage girl and, of course, the angels who sing at the birth of the Messiah.

What does that mean for us?

It means this: God is always with us, has never left us. He’s not up in heaven. He’s not angry. He lives in the depth of each and every one of your hearts. And that is where you will meet Him. And that is where you will find your Christmas.

And that is where you, talking in your own language, to Him — who has always loved you, who has never judged you, who takes you into His arms — and you sit down and you walk with Him and you talk with Him, and that is your life.

It’s not following orders. It’s not written in the sky. It’s the presence of God who comes because He has never left you. And when you bring your heart and you search for Him in your heart, then He is always present and always there.

Isaiah is saying, “You have left us. You have left us all alone. Please come down, come back.”

And God says to him, “I have been with you all days, even from the beginning of the world. And I will be your God all days, even to the consummation of history.”

So what are you supposed to do?

You’re supposed to do what love tells you to do.

Because the one thing we know about God is He has made us for Himself alone, and we will not rest until we rest in Him.

And He has made us that we might experience His love.

But you will never, never experience His love until you reach out to your own brothers and sisters and take that love and use it to forge your own life. Because the secret is not with God. The secret rests in your own heart.

There’s an old Jewish saying:

The Rabbi says to his children, he says, “Where is God? Where is God?”

And they all say, “God is everywhere. God is everywhere.”

And the Rabbi looks at them and he says, “No, He’s not.”

And they have heard, as we have heard, that God is everywhere.

“What do you mean, ‘No He’s not?’ Where is He then?”

And the Rabbi looks at them and he says, “God is where you allow God to be.”

And that is the story. The story of the Old and New Testament is God is, but God is present to you only where you want Him to be.

And what is that presence?

That is the presence that Jesus comes. Because when Jesus is born and lives, he doesn’t run away. He says, “I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world.”

And so in the last parable when he says, it’s like a man who goes a short distance and he’s gone for a while, what do you do?

You remember him. But your remembering him makes him present and makes you continue on the road together with him into eternal life.

So what is the things that you do during Advent?

You rejoice, you give thanks, and you look around at the people and forget your own ego, what I want, what I need, what I have, because that buries you into a big impenetrable wall that says, “I can’t hear you if all you want is something that I have to give you. I only respond to love.”

And that is why, at Christmas, we are givers and not takers. We are lovers, and not demanding like children pouting in the corner.

Because this is what Christmas is, it’s to open us to the greatest mystery of all: we never walk alone.

He is with us from the moment we get up to the moment we fall asleep at night. We are never alone and all we have from Him is love.

If we do that, we’ll all have a very happy Christmas.

FAQ for Homily for 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B

When is 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B, in 2023?3rd December 2023
What is the title of Father Hanly’s homily for First Sunday of Advent, Year B?"Hope in Times of Darkness" and "With You Always"
What is the next homily by Father Hanly in this Liturgical Cycle?
2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B
Who was Father Hanly?Father Denis J. Hanly was a Maryknoll Missionary
How can we find other homilies by Father Hanly?By Liturgical Calendar or by topic or by title

Information about Father Hanly’s homilies for 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B

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If you would like to use our transcripts of either of these sermons (updated 2023), please contact us for permission.

Father Hanly's sermon for 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B, "Hope in Times of Darkness" was delivered on 30th November 2008. Father Hanly's sermon for 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B, "With You Always" was delivered on 27th November 2011. It is sometimes hard to accurately transcribe Father Hanly's reflections, so please let us know if you think we have made a mistake in any of our transcripts, and let us have your suggestions.

We hope that Father Hanly’s homilies, always kind, always wise, always full of love, will restore you to peace and harmony through a new understanding of what is important in this world. We believe these homilies are inspiring for everyone, not only for Roman Catholics or other Christians.

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