“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”
Wars and insurrections, persecutions, famines, and strife and tribulation. These are the images we have been seeing over the past few weeks in the readings presented for our consideration by Holy Mother Church, readings that describe the end of the world. But today we see a very different vision of the end of the world, a vision not of war, but of peace.
Today, as indicated by the violet vestments of the priest and the paring back of the decoration in our church, we begin the holy season of Advent, the period of preparation for Christmas. Unfortunately, in our world, preparing for Christmas usually means lots of shopping, baking, party planning, and so forth, but really, preparing for Christmas is not preparation for a holiday so much as it ought to be about preparing for Christ Himself. We are not preparing ourselves for a holiday or celebration, we are preparing ourselves for a person, who is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What does it mean, then, to prepare not for a holiday or celebration, but for this person, this divine person who is Christ the Lord? After all, Christ has already come, 2016 years ago in the little town of Bethlehem, but we also know that, in the words of the Creed we recite each Sunday, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” The prophet Isaiah tells us today what it will be like when Christ comes. Last Sunday we recalled that Christ is our King, and today Holy Mother Church presents before us one of the most important images of Christ the King as we prepare for His coming: He is the peaceful King, the Rex Pacificus. In His kingdom there will be no violence, there will be no need for swords and spears, and thus it is that today’s vision of the end of the world is not a vision of war and strife, but a vision of peace.
If Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of peace, my brothers and sisters, then we ourselves must become people of peace in order to prepare to enter into that kingdom. How, then, can we be people of peace? We know that we live in a world where there is much violence. Entire countries or regions of the world are enveloped in armed conflict, gangs and organized crime risk the safety of our young people, and even public discourse that while not being physically violent is still violent in its toxicity. It is easy for us to feel helpless faced with this violence – what could I, just one person, do about all this?
Despite the seeming insignificance of just one person, though, each of us has the opportunity to live as a person of peace. Our world is made up of individual persons, and the attitudes and actions of those individual persons really do matter. If we want our world to be a peaceful world, in imitation of Christ’s peaceful kingdom, we must ourselves become people of peace. So I want to propose to you today three ways in which we can become persons of peace in order to welcome Christ, our peaceful King.
The first path to becoming persons of peace is that we must seek reconciliation with one another. Too often we allow grudges and hurt feelings to separate us from one another. It is especially tragic when families are torn apart by these grudges, fights over inheritances, or other causes of conflict. When we harbor conflict in our hearts, it affects not only our relationship with others but our relationship with God as well. We cannot welcome God’s grace and His peace into our hearts when we harbor bitterness towards our fellow men and women, especially towards those whom we have a particular obligation to love, such as our families. We must be reconciled to one another, and then we must also be reconciled to God.
The second path to peace is the path of prayer. The psalmist tells us today, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” This verse is a clarion reminder to pray especially for that holy city where Christ redeemed the world in His passion and resurrection that suffers so terribly from violence. But it is also a reminder to pray for all the places in the world affected by violence, from the Middle East to our own cities. Our prayers often seem ineffective, but they are not. The psalmist writes, “Because of the house of the Lord, our God, I will pray for your good.” If we believe the Lord our God is good, then we must also believe that He truly hears and answers our prayers. We must never tire of praying for peace.
Sometimes, praying for peace might take the form of praying for peace in our own hearts. Those reconciliations with members of our families or communities often require a lot of healing in our own hearts and the hearts of others. Pray for that healing in your heart and in the hearts of those to whom you need to be reconciled. You can also ask your guardian angel to work with the guardian angel of the person to whom you need to be reconciled to help bring you together.
In order to be persons of prayer this Advent, we must also be persons of silence. Being a person of prayer does not mean simply that we spend time every day saying our daily prayers, but it means living in such a way as to be ready to listen to the Lord when He desires to speak to us, not just when we desire to speak to Him. This Advent, seek to grow in prayer by allowing some time of silence in your life. Try turning off the TV and radio and setting your phone aside. Silence in our hearts does not mean only less noise entering through our ears, it also means less busyness for our eyes. When you have two spare minutes, try filling them with silence and stillness rather than checking social networking. A spirit of silence can also mean doing one thing at a time and doing it well. As we go about our daily tasks, we should seek to allow God to be a part of those tasks. We cannot do that when we are already trying (usually, rather unsuccessfully) to multitask by looking at our phones at the same time. Ask yourself – am I allowing God to be a part of my day, or something else?
The third, (and, you’ll remember, last) path to peace illumined by the prophet Isaiah today is the path of moral goodness. In order to experience the Lord’s peaceful Kingdom, in order to be filled with His peace, we must be filled with His goodness. “Come,” Isaiah writes, “let us climb the Lord’s mountain … that He may instruct us in His ways, and we may walk in his paths, for from Zion shall go forth instruction.” Our day-to-day efforts to live according to the Lord’s teachings, as known from the Scriptures and from His bride, the Catholic Church, really make a difference in bringing about peace in the world.
You will hopefully recall that great Advent hymn, “O Come, o Come Emmanuel.” One of the verses of this hymn refers to Christ as “our King and lawgiver” – rex et legifer noster. Like all kings, Christ gives us a law. But while the laws of earthly kings serve to further their own interests (c.f. the American tax code), the law of Christ the King is entirely for the good of us, His subjects, and not for His own good. It is a gift to us, a guide to perfect happiness and peace.
This is why the Church pairs this reflection on Christ’s peaceful kingdom with the words of the Apostle Paul today: “Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day.” Following Christ’s law, written on our hearts in our consciences and taught by Christ’s body, the Church, is the path to living in peace with one another and with Him forever in Heaven.
In the Gospel today our Lord tells us, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come!” We know that Christmas will come on December 25, but recall that preparation for Christmas does not mean preparation for a holiday or event; it is our preparation for a person, for Christ our divine Savior, and we do not know when He will come again. This is why it is essential for us to persist in a state of grace – having confessed all grave sins committed after Baptism – as we wait for our loving and merciful Judge. This final and most important grace – final perseverance – is a grace for which we must pray every day of our lives, because we cannot earn it of ourselves, but must receive it lovingly and gratefully from God.
If we seek reconciliation with one another, persevere in prayer, and live according to Christ’s law in a state of grace this Advent, we will be truly peaceful people ready not just for a holiday, but for a person, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May His kingdom come.
The Rev Royce V Gregerson
Parish Church of St Charles Borromeo, Ft Wayne
I Sunday of Advent, AD MMXVI
Image: Stefan Lochner, The Last Judgement, c. 1435