23 Dec 2012
“He shall be peace.” (Micah 5:4a)
In the name …
Just like poor Bethlehem was overlooked in her day by many as being too small to be the birthplace of the Messiah so is this Fourth Sunday of Advent often overlooked by a lot of us since it almost disappears in all the attention we give to the quickly approaching celebration of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. All of this purple is ready to be put away until Ash Wednesday as soon as Mass is over. The poinsettias are on their way here, the Christmas tree and manger are just waiting to be set-up. Our thoughts are moving right past Advent and this poor, overlooked Fourth Sunday. Christmas is already on our minds. But if we rush past today’s Fourth Sunday of Advent, we will miss the important final message of peace.
Peace is the gift of those who are prepared, and thus it comes at the end of our Advent journey. As we now get ready to step from Advent to Christmas, as we get ready to approach the manger, we are better able than we would be otherwise to appreciate the truest meaning of peace. And maybe no one expresses this truth more concisely than does the prophet Micah when he says to us this morning: “He shall be peace.” Peace is not simply the absence of war. It’s not so much about what the world is doing to each other or is not doing for each other. It’s not even about the savagery of so much senseless violence like we have been exposed to recently. Peace ultimately comes down to Christ.
Micah points us away from events –good or bad, and toward Christ: “He shall be peace.” This final message of Advent, symbolized by the fourth candle of the Advent wreath and captured by the words Peg read for us earlier that He “has come to take away all fear,” is that Christ is our peace no matter what is going on in the world. This confidence means we don’t have to follow when others jump from one fear to the next. We don’t have to be held captive by fear, real or imaginary. This past week, for example, we moved from the real fear of Newtown, CT to the imaginary fear of an expired Mayan calendar, now we’re going to move along to our own manufactured fear of the Fiscal Cliff. It seems there’s always something to be afraid of, and if there isn’t, we make something up. Advent lets us out of this constant cycle of fear and what it does to us, how it tries to define us.
There are things to be feared and we need to be cautious in our lives, but we shouldn’t be fearful in general. That kind of apprehension can lead us into a lock-down mode. We build-up walls. We might be safe inside, but we’re alone too. Advent’s peace is an active peace. It challenges us to get involved and to make a difference, to make things better. After the tragedy of Newtown, people wanted to do something. As the pictures of those little children were published, people wanted to help, but when people were interviewed a lot of them said they just didn’t know what to do. They felt helpless. They knew that families and a community were grieving, but there was so little they could do to make a difference. Then you heard the scattered words of the ones directly affected by the shooting, and what they most appreciated was the general outpouring of sympathy and empathy. Maybe hanging ribbons and ringing church bells can’t make a parent’s anguish disappear, but for them to know that we care may be the greatest gift we can give. Fear after something like Newtown could make us turn our schools into prisons and we hear messages of arming our schools, but Advent’s message of peace is that we will not allow the psychopaths and the savages to define the rest of us.
Micah says to us today that Bethlehem was judged too small and insignificant to be among the clans of Judah, to be the place where the Messiah would be born. But tomorrow night when we come back here, it is the shepherds of Bethlehem, it is the manger of Bethlehem, it is the child of Bethlehem, that we will celebrate. Maybe the lesson for us is that nothing and no one is too small to accomplish the work of God. So we can’t give up on the world and hide. Advent’s message of peace should give us the confidence to try and make a difference. When Jesus was born in little Bethlehem there were still wars and thieves, and bad people doing bad things, but still “He shall be peace” rang true. Jesus was born as an outcast in Bethlehem and yet He lived a life and preached a gospel that reached out to everyone. Jesus wasn’t defined by events, but by who He was, and it should be the same for us.
The Advent wreath now glows as brightly as it can. It is now almost time for us to move beyond its light. It’s almost time for the Christ Candle, which we will light tomorrow night, and then that light will be shared with all of us gathered so that we can carry the light of Christ into the world so that His peace and not the world’s fearfulness will define us. Advent’s peace is to get us ready to hear that message that God is still among us, that Christmas has sanctified this world. Let us pray that His peace be a part of our lives and that these weeks of Advent may have prepared us well to celebrate the mystery and the power that is Christmas. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
In the name …
Fr. Randolph Calvo