This is the season when a familiar question begins echoing in homes throughout the land: “What do you want for Christmas?” We’ve all heard answers ranging from reasonable (a kitchen whisk, a toy truck, a sweater) to poignant (a job, good health, friends) to outrageous (a desktop punching bag, a sports car).
Compared to the actual promise of Christmas, though, even the most ambitious wish lists fall short. God invites us and our families to set our sights on something higher—to seek nothing less than the peace on earth announced by angels at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14).
Peace is the deepest need and longing of our hearts and of our world. And peace is the lasting gift that Jesus came to bring. Throughout his life on earth, he spoke peace to all who would listen. He declared peacemakers “blessed” and called his followers to continue his mission of peace and reconciliation.
Advent is the perfect opportunity to receive this gift in a new and deeper way. As the season begins, prayerfully reflect on a few questions. Then talk them over with your spouse or a good friend: Lord, where do you want to bring peace? How can I cooperate with your plan? What can my family and I offer you this Advent to further your work of bringing peace on earth?
Here are a few simple thoughts to help you draw up your own plan for how to “seek peace and pursue it” this Advent (Psalm 34:15).
A Peaceful Pace. “We begin Advent with a critical look at the calendar, slashing all but the most necessary commitments,” writes a mother of three.
“I don’t want to take the celebration out of Christmas,” she says. “It is a time for feasting and joy. Decorating, baking, and partying are all appropriate ways of celebrating Jesus’ birth. But I know I can’t do it all. If I want to make room for quiet prayer time, simple family fun, and sharing with others, some other good, fun things have to go. Each Advent I ask myself: How far am I willing to leap in faith? (Mary Cronk Farrell, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families).
Take that leap, and slash a couple of activities. Then fill in some of the resulting holes in your schedule with spiritual pursuits such as weekday Mass, Scripture reading, or an hour of adoration, evening prayers around the Advent wreath or by the manger. Choose an approach you can reasonably sustain, and give it priority.
Peace with God. A woman I know was sitting at the doctor’s office, waiting for a routine physical, when she had a stroke. Days later, as she began to recover her faculties, her first thought was: I’ve got to get right with God! For some time, she had been rationalizing an area of sin in her life. Her brush with death gave her an urgent desire to repent.
Making peace with God doesn’t have to be precipitated by a stroke! If there is unrepented sin in our lives, we can receive forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We can talk with our children or our friends about what it means to have peace with the Lord and then take advantage of Advent penance services and go to Confession together.
Peace with One Another. As preparation for his coming at Christmas, offer Jesus, the Prince of Peace, some effort to make peace. Are you miffed about something your nephew has done? Give him a friendly call anyway. Do you tune out when your spouse starts worrying out loud? Listen up, and look for ways to bring God’s peace into the situation.
A good prayer for this project is the one attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” And the right spirit was set out by St. John Chrysostom, who urged perseverance when we feel snubbed: “God pleads with us every day, and we refuse to listen—yet he doesn’t stop pleading. Shouldn’t you do the same?”
Messengers of Peace. The Christmas proclamation of “peace on earth” turns our attention to areas of the world that are torn by war and violence. Because “peace” in Scripture refers to people’s well-being and welfare, it also touches on justice and human rights. Looking beyond the family circle, what can be done to help the cause of peace?
In one family, prayers around the Advent wreath include intercession for cities oppressed by ethnic violence and racial tension. In another family, the children have played “Advent Angel” for conflict zones rather than for family members, with each child choosing an area to research and pray for throughout the season.
Another suggestion: find out about local, national, and international organizations that work with the needy. Choose one or more projects to support as a family, even beyond Christmas. On a more personal level, reach out to a lonely neighbor, shut-in, or other person in need.
The Right Gift. You can’t guarantee that no one will give you oven mitts, an ugly tie, or some other odd gift this Christmas. But no matter what you find under the tree, you’ll find the right gift in your heart—if you’ve made peace your Advent theme.
Louise Perrotta is a former editor of The Word Among Us.