It’s Advent, that time of the year when we are invited by the Church to slow down and ponder the great mystery of God’s presence in our midst. But let’s face it. This time of year most of us are not slowing down. We’re speeding up! We are not pondering. We’re calculating— calculating how in the world we’re going to get everything done before Christmas—and how we’re going to pay for it!
Yet, here I am today wishing you peace during this Advent season. I do so because peace is one of the main themes of Advent. Sunday’s first reading is that beautiful description of peace from the prophet Isaiah (Is. 2:1-5), “they shall beat their swords into plowshares.” And that little baby boy lying in the manger is called the Prince of Peace. And “Peace on earth” is what the angels sang to those shepherds that holy night (Lk. 2:4).
But what kind of peace am I wishing for you? First of all, I am wishing you personal, inner peace. This peace is not the same as absolute calm. Perhaps an image will help here. In the world of sailing, absolute calm is death. If there’s no wind, there’s no movement. Limp sails mean no forward progress. It is the same in the spiritual life. If there is no tension, there will be no movement. No challenges mean no forward progress. So a certain amount of tension and disturbance in our personal lives is not only normal, it is downright healthy.
I am not wishing you the kind of peace that comes from absolute certitude or complete closure either. We can be uncertain about some things, we can have doubts and questions, we can be living with several lose ends, and yet we can still have a peaceful heart. That’s because our peace is not dependent upon having life all figured out. No, our peace is dependent upon one thing only:Who God is.
And who is God? God is our loving Father, our tender Mother. Our essential identity lies in this fact: we are a child of God. The immensely consoling readings of Advent reiterate this incredible truth of God’s love for us. When we are experiencing tension this Advent, maybe we can keep repeating under our breath, “I am a child of God…I am a child of God.”
Another mantra I find helpful in calming myself amid hecticness or confusion is this: “God is here…God is in this person (or these people)…God is in me…God is in the details of this specific challenge, difficulty, pain, or mess!”
But I wish you more than personal inner peace. I wish you “social peace” as well, that is, the peace that comes from living in right relationship with others—our loved ones and family, yes; but also our colleagues at work, our parish, our local community, our state, our nation, the rest of the world. Pope Paul VI said many years ago, “If you want peace, work for justice.” What specific work can I do this Advent to foster peace through justice? Perhaps I can make a donation to Catholic Relief Services (CRF) for the people of the Philippines, volunteer at a Christmas party for needy children, donate food to a local food pantry, get more involved in my parish, write or call my congressional representative on a social need close to my heart, or educate myself on a specific justice issue.
The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. It means wholeness or completeness. In his book, Seeds of Peace, William Shannon writes that people “are at peace when they become who they really are and who God intended them to be.” We facilitate peace when we cultivate a healthy balance in our life—a balance between being alone and being with others, giving and receiving, talking and listening, working and relaxing, and self-care and selfless concern for others in need.
This Advent, my prayer for you is this: May you hear God saying these words to you:
My Beloved One…I love you…You are very special to me…There’s no one quite like you…Please remember, I am with you every moment of your day and night…Remember too that beneath the evil and messiness of life, my Grace is at work…My Reign of Peace is already present, in the here and now—even though the evidence for this might be slight or even hidden…Trust me on this…Trust me….Be at peace, my Beloved…Be at peace…
Have a blessed Advent!
What does peace mean to you?
How do you nourish peace during this busy time of the year?