I want to share with you the wisdom of three saints today, as we contemplate the Word of God for this Sunday before Christmas – the “calm before the storm,” as it were! As we all sit here, we anticipate – in a few short hours, really – an onslaught of holiday merriment that will bring joy to our hearts, gas to our stomachs, and aches to our backs. However, we all deserve this moment of peace – a calm that reminds us that there is a reason for all of this, and that reason has nothing to do with the sales at Walmart, the arguments over “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” or the debate over whether or not “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie or not.
You’ve chosen to be here: in this place of prayer – our spiritual home, where we know Jesus is already present in mystery, even if we haven’t placed Him into our manger scenes yet. So, the wisdom of God’s Word and the wisdom of His saints should serve to ground us in the real meaning of what we are about to celebrate.
First, I want to share wisdom from St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata. The diminutive nun who lived and served in the slums of India knew what Christmas was all about – and for her it was not just one day or season in the year. For her, Christ was always being born to His people and to her, and for this reason she lived her difficult life with an abiding sense of peace. Where did this peace come from?
Mother was quoted as teaching her sisters that it came from silent prayer. “The fruit of silence is prayer,” she said, “the fruit of prayer is faith; the fruit of faith is love; the fruit of love is service; and the fruit of service is peace.” Peace, for Mother Teresa, was the end result of a process that begins with silence and prayer. It grows through faith and love, which lead to service. This is Christ-like living; and the result of that sort of life is peace.
Mary knew this. Her life was devoted to God and she was deeply prayerful. So much so, that when God spoke to her with His plan of salvation – a confusing and, frankly, scary plan – she was able to respond with full faith and love to conceive Jesus in her womb. In today’s Gospel, we see where this experience continues to lead her: filled with faith and love, Mary “travelled … in haste” to her kinswoman Elizabeth to help her with her surprise pregnancy. She is led outward in service to someone else.
That service is at the heart of the spirit of Christmas, since as God enters the world we are led to find Him in more and more places, in more and more people. It is Christ’s love that urges us on to give – to give of ourselves as He did – in this season of giving. What greater gift do we have than the gift of ourselves?
In search of this peace in our world, I want to offer the wisdom of another saint: St. Pope Paul VI, who famously said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” For the Christian, “justice” is more than making sure that everyone is “even.” It is not a matter of tit-for-tat or retribution for a wrong; and it is certainly not revenge. Rather, Christian justice is a matter of relationships in their proper order – first with God and then with one another. It is this type of justice that paves the way for real, lasting peace.
Finally, St. Pope John Paul II expanded on this call for justice when he said, “There is no peace without justice, [but] no justice without forgiveness.” He said that in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11 and in the midst of a terrified and angry world at that time. He knew that without an ability to forgive, we are too often consumed by anger, hatred, and hurt; and these lead to violence and suffering – the exact opposites of what we celebrate at Christmas.
Forgiveness; justice; peace. These three things can bring the calm into our hearts that our world cannot give us. They are human activities, yes, but they are divinely rooted. Mary, filled with the Holy Spirit, bearing the Son of God in her womb, shows us what these divine gifts can do to us: they lead us out in service to others, sowing more seeds of love and faith.
On this weekend before Christmas, can we take a moment to simply embrace these realities? Open your hearts to forgive; enter into real relationships rooted in justice; and you will discover the real meaning of Christmas – and have Christ’s peace.