“We Shall Beat Our Swords Into Plowshares”, Gift of the USSR to the United Nations 1959, UN Building, New York, USA.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another…. Isaiah 2:4
Well if only it were so! Today’s readings amount to a clarion call to complete change in expectation and attitude both in the individual and between nations. It is in expectation of the arrival of the Prince of Peace among us, and the consequent changes in us resulting from such an event. Or rather, the consequent changes we (and all nations) should demonstrate from such an event. So now it is Advent, a word from Latin meaning “arrival”. Preparations begin for Christmas, the arrival of the Prince of Peace in our midst, seen in a million ways, from supermarket carols and street decorations to Christmas cards being sent all over the world to where it really counts, in the heart and soul of each one of us. What does the expected event mean?
About 2000 years before the blessed birth of the Savior, God entered history for the first time by approaching Abram/Abraham in a city in the north of Mesopotamia. In the following centuries, those who accepted this still small voice, a people called the Jews or Hebrews, learned what sort of God this was compared to the contemporary versions seen in the area. By the time Jesus arrived, God’s self-revelation had demonstrated a God of power, loyalty, mercy, forgiveness, one who listens, who loves freedom and one who is open to relationship with us. That made God distinctly different from all other gods. These qualities were slowly revealed through the ages in the interactions between the prophets and people and God (the Father, as we learned to say). But with the birth of the Son of God, these characteristics were actually demonstrated in real life by Jesus, putting flesh, as it were, on the barebones revelation of the Divine One. Thereafter, down through the ages, those same qualities have been demonstrated by the people we call the saints, under the inspiration of the third person of the Trinity, God’s Holy Spirit, giving example of the kind of life God expects of all of us. Hence there is an exercise all of us can undertake as an Advent preparation for Christmas. How do we demonstrate the divine qualities in our life, in imitation of God’s?
- Power. We all have power. In class I would clearly demonstrate this by asking students, “Do you have the power to make your mother’s life a misery – or to make her day?”…….. So how do we use our power?
- Loyalty. Sometimes called trustworthiness or honesty. Are we people who can be depended on to do the right thing? Is our word as good as gold? Do we carry through on stated intentions?
- Mercy. I prefer to define this as “compassion on someone who does not deserve it”. Are we able to act that way with everyone we know? And I mean everyone.
- Forgiveness. Jesus forgave those who murdered him. Could we do the same for the wrongs done to us?
- Listening. Can we actually hear what people say to us? Can we take in their meaning, hopes, fears, anything that concerns them that they share with us?
- Freedom. Are we true to our own self? Do we allow others to be themselves? Are we open to rejoicing in the gifts of others, delighting in their worthy triumphs and right demonstrations of skill? Do we help in their development in some way? Are we free enough within ourselves to be able to do all that? (Note that possessiveness or envy is the opposite of freedom).
- Relationship. Are we open to others, or not? Do we welcome others into our life in an appropriate and good way? Do we welcome new friends or acquaintances?
So there is an Advent calendar of a different ilk for all of us. Look at those qualities and see how they show themselves into Jesus’ ministry and become shining examples of an honorable life. Think of your favorite saint, and apply the same test to that person. Think of your own life and apply them there. With such an armory, if it can be called that, a person is good in the eyes of God. Such a person is ready to receive the Prince of Peace on the 25th, for Jesus will recognize one of his own immediately. In that way, Christmas will become what it was meant to be, the festival of peace among all people.
The Prince of Peace, Cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Chartres 13thCentury, Chartres, France.
Reflections on the following Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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