Isn’t it ridiculous how we can allow events to irritate us and get right under our skin?
I came across a story in a national newspaper last week about a shopping centre in Stirling, Scotland which declined the request of the Legion of Mary to display a traditional crib on its premises during Advent and Christmas. The main reason? Apparently, the ruling body didn’t want their customers being subjected to the beliefs of individual organisations and were proud to be politically and religiously neutral. I must confess to red mist rapidly descending. The decision had well and truly rattled my cage and any semblance of peace I may have possessed prior to reading the article was replaced by something more than annoyance, seething resentment.
After a while of course, when I reflected on the many disasters both natural and man-made throughout the world that shatter the peace of so many thousands of lives, I began to get a sense of perspective. But isn’t it astounding how even comparatively trivial things can undermine our peace of mind? God himself desires peace for each and every one of us but it’s a peace that the world cannot give.
And what better time to remind ourselves of this fact than these Advent and Christmas seasons? This Sunday we hear ‘He himself will be Peace’ (Micah 5:4). At Midnight Mass we hear from the Prophet Isaiah how all the footgear of battle and every cloak drenched in blood will be destroyed by ‘the Wonder Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9).
In the Gospel of this Mass, the message of peace continues: “Do not be afraid” declare the angels to the terrified shepherds outside Bethlehem and this is followed by the heavenly choir singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men who enjoy his favour” (Luke 2).
In the Mass of Christmas day, we hear the beautiful and uplifting words from Isaiah, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of one who brings good news, who heralds peace, brings happiness, proclaims salvation” (Isaiah 52).
Hopefully, reflecting on these passages at Mass and as we read them again over the coming days we will be deeply reassured that Jesus Christ is truly the Prince of Peace who comes to reside in our hearts so that we not only experience calming presence in the turbulent storms of our lives but are strengthened and energised to be peace-makers to others.
Richard Leonard SJ in the Tablet (15 December) encourages us this Christmas to hear and take ownership of God’s greeting, “Be not afraid”, and he quotes St Paul’s assurance that ‘perfect love casts out all fear.’ He goes on to tell us that ‘‘On any day in the coming year, when we face down our fears and live our Christian lives to the full, we will discover that Christmas is a movable feast”.
I leave you with Fr Leonard’s favourite Advent poem by John Bell of the Iona Community in Scotland. It is also one of mine.
Light looked down and saw the darkness.
“I will go there,” said light.
Peace looked down and saw war.
“I will go there,” said peace.
Love looked down and saw hatred.
“I will go there,” said love.
The Lord of Light,
The Prince of Peace,
The King of Love,
Came down and crept in beside us.