Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. (Luke 2:14)
Advent and Christmas seem to be the perfect time to think about things like peace on earth. Just the image of the baby in the manger fills us with a sense of warmth and happiness. It makes us wish that everyone could feel this peace all the time.
But this season also points us to the time when Jesus will come again, not as a baby, but as a king. On that day, peace will reign forever. There will be no more division, poverty, or suffering. Violence will be a thing of the past. Soldiers will lay down their arms. Enemies will become friends. Even death, the final enemy, will be no more.
Can you imagine how wonderful it will be to live in a world like this? It’s no wonder we pray, “Thy kingdom come” at every Mass! The Church wants us to look forward eagerly to the promise of heaven so that we’ll turn to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, every day until his kingdom does come.
Elusive Peace. We all want to live peaceful, happy, and constructive lives, but we also know that this dream often feels elusive. No matter how much we yearn for peace, we see a world filled with violence, division, and greed. Why would this be the case? There are many answers, but one of the most important reasons is that our godly desire for peace is all too often overshadowed by our selfish desire to get what we want.
Paul spoke about this perplexing dilemma. Describing the interior struggle between sin and holiness that we all face, he wrote, “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Romans 7:19). Doesn’t this sound familiar? Like Paul, we want to be honest, but deception can seem much easier. We want to love someone, but he makes us so angry. We want to pray, but we get too caught up in the busyness of life, and we forget. We want to forgive, but not until the people who hurt us first pay for what they did.
So there is an ongoing battle between the “new creation” in Christ and the “old self” who does not want to give up the fight (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:20-24). We set out with good intentions, but we slide into selfishness and pride. In the end, we are often left frustrated and stripped of peace, just as St. Paul described.
Real Peace. We can also lose our peace because we lose sight of the difference between the peace of the world and the peace of Christ. The world’s peace relies mainly on good health, enough money, a successful career, a loving marriage, and happy children. According to the world, peace means being free from any significant conflict or pain. Of course, none of this is bad; Jesus isn’t opposed to good health, secure finances, or a loving family. But what about those times when things don’t go our way?
At the Last Super, Jesus told his apostles, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you” (John 14:27). His peace is a much deeper peace. It’s a peace that we can experience when times are going well and when we face the most turbulent of situations.
This peace comes from knowing that Jesus has redeemed us and has promised to be with us always. It comes from knowing that he has rescued us from sin and made us into children of God. It comes from being convinced that God’s grace has opened heaven and eternal life to us.
Promised Peace. Let’s go back to the Last Supper. Jesus told his apostles, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
What is the “this” that Jesus told them about? It’s the promise of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-10, 13-15), the love of his Father (16:27), and his promise “to prepare a place” for them (14:2). He told them that they could have peace in every trial because the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit would be with them to help them through every challenge they would face.
Jesus knew that when they saw his arrest and crucifixion, the apostles would lose their peace and abandon him—and they did. But he also knew that they would come back to him and regain their confidence—and they did. Over time, the apostles learned how to hold onto their peace no matter what trial they faced. Their peace came, not from the absence of conflict, but from a deep and growing relationship with Jesus.
There’s no way around it; we will all face turbulent times. Some of us may lose our jobs or face financial stress. Some of us may have a difficult marriage or rebellious children or both. Some of us may face a serious illness. Most of us will face the loss of a loved one. But no matter what we face, Jesus will be with us, offering us his peace.
Peace amidst Chaos. Adam and Maria have two children, one of whom is autistic. Adam’s life can feel very chaotic at times, especially when his daughter’s meltdowns last a long time and become violent.
One night, after having an especially difficult time with his daughter, Adam slipped out of the house to go to the prayer meeting he attended. He got to the church a little early, knelt down in the back, and poured out his frustration to the Lord. “What is going to happen to my little girl?” he wondered. “Will we ever find the right therapies and medications? Will she ever find happiness? How can Maria and I keep up with all of this?”
Just then, he looked up and saw a stained glass window showing a grieving Mary holding her dead son. “The image pierced my heart,” he wrote. “For the first time, I saw Mary as a real mother, weeping over her own flesh and blood. I saw that she knew my pain. I saw that she could identify with the bitterness I was feeling. But she also knew that God would help me, just as he had helped her.” At that moment, Adam felt a peace come over him that remains to this day. “Now,” he says, “whenever I have to help my girl through a tough time, I know that, just like Mary, I am sharing in my child’s suffering—and that somehow by sharing in it with her, I’m actually helping her. Just like Mary, I can find peace and hope in God’s presence.”
The Greatest Gift. So when you look at the child in the manger this Advent, know that the peace you feel is not meant to be just a passing emotion. Know that Jesus is right there with you, offering you his peace and comfort and wisdom, in the bad times as well as the good times. Together, let’s promise to try our best to hold onto this peace. It’s the greatest gift we can receive this Christmas, and it’s the greatest gift we can give to each other.