Many years ago I went to lead a retreat somewhere on the south coast with a semi-enclosed group of sisters. I was told there were 15 in the community and that all the sisters would be involved in the retreat. At the first session there were only 14 and then again at the second and third. I asked about the missing nun and was told Sister Augusta never came out of her room.
Eventually I was asked to go and see her. When I entered, she turned and faced me and it was clear she wasn't well. In fact I discovered she was tortured, convinced she didn't pray enough, hadn't been good enough during her life and that she was going to hell. She was terrified.
I felt so sad when I met her and even though I tried to talk to her about the good news of God's love, it was like speaking to a brick wall. I have said on many occasions that the good news of the Gospel is that God loves us as we really are with a radical overwhelming love that we can only ever glimpse. Often it is a long and hard journey we have to undertake to discover that truth. That journeying is what Advent is all about. It is a chance to reflect on the God who is ever breaking into our lives to reveal the truth of love that is not dependent on us or anything we do or don't do.
So this Advent challenge any image of God that you might have picked up during your life that would tell you He is not wonderfully loving. Challenge any image of God that demands or expects you to be perfect before you can be loved. It doesn't matter what you were taught as a child about God. Begin again and dare to believe in the overwhelming power of love which allows us to be fully who we are without condemnation. Realise the truth that in God's eyes we are wholly and completely wonderful.
Let Advent be a time of renewal and refreshment so that when you come to celebrate Christmas, you celebrate the truth of that free gift of love made flesh for you and me.