In the last three weeks, we have been Wondering, Walking, and Waiting. This fourth week of Advent, we reflect on Working – working for justice. We think of Christmas as a time of peace: warring factions call for peace for one day at least; we wish for blessings of peace in our Christmas cards; and, we sing songs about peace on earth. I wonder sometimes if my desire for peace is merely wishful thinking.
I am reminded of the words of Pope Paul VI: If you want peace, work for justice. What does justice demand of me? To feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, care for the sick, free the imprisoned. I remember to pray for those who are hungry, homeless, naked, sick, or imprisoned, but I rarely take these demands literally. Sometimes I am frightened by people in need. Too often, I do not even acknowledge them when they cross my path. Sometimes I don’t take action for justice and peace because I don’t believe that the actions of one person can make a dent in the situation. Is it possible during Advent to imagine that each one of us can have an impact wherever our tasks take us? We are called to do what we can with what we have and who we are. When I get anxious and fearful, I need to remember that I have everything I need. I have enough. I am enough. The closer we get to Christmas, the more urgent is this call for justice:
Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice about to be revealed. (Isaiah 56:1)
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
David Haas composed a song based on Micah 6:8 that he titled “We Are Called.” (You can find a performance of this song on YouTube by googling the title and composer.)
We Are Called by David Haas, 1988
Come! live in the light! Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!
We are called to be light for the kingdom, to live in the freedom of the city of God!
Refrain: We are called to act with justice. We are called to love tenderly.
We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.
Come! Open your heart! Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless, so all hatred and blindness will be no more!
Sing! Sing a new song! Sing of that great day when all will be one!
God will reign and we’ll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love!
There are two more Advent traditions that help us in our final preparations: The O Antiphons and the Christmas tree.
The O Antiphons
Each year on December 17, the Church begins a series of daily prayers at Mass and at Vespers for the seven days leading up to Christmas. Each of these prayer verses (antiphons) begins with the word O. The O Antiphons highlight a title for the expected Messiah: O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Radiant Dawn, O King of all the Nations, O Emmanuel. Praying these antiphons can help us to focus on our final preparations for Christmas. In some years, I made ornaments for each antiphon and added them to our Jesse Tree or Advent Calendar. This year, I made a set of bookmarks, one for each O Antiphon, and shared them with our morning coffee group at church.
I have watched altogether too many Hallmark Christmas movies this year! In each one, the characters are buying a real evergreen tree that completely fills the indoor space where it is set up. (Also, it is usually snowing and there’s ice skating involved at some point.) I loved this tradition when I was a child growing up Massachusetts, and for many years I set us a large evergreen tree in my home. Now that I live in Florida, without snow and outdoor ice skating, I set up a 4-ft green artificial tree. This year, the tree is on the lanai. I have scaled back on tree ornaments, too. The ones that hang on my tree now each hold a special memory – of the persons who gave me the ornaments, of my parents on whose trees the ornaments originally hung, and of places around the world that were memorable experiences. The Book of Blessings (Catholic Church) includes a short blessing that you might consider as you put the finishing touches on your own Christmas tree.
Let your blessing come upon us as we illuminate this tree.
May the light and cheer it gives be a sign of the joy that fills our hearts.
May all who delight in this tree come to the knowledge and joy of salvation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
In these final days of preparation for Christmas, I hope to be Working for Justice and Peace.
J – Just for today, be an example of loving service.
U – Up the ante when it comes to sharing my time with others who need my presence.
S – Speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. (Isaiah 50:4-5)
T – Take action for others, especially those who are voiceless and powerless.
I – Include in my prayers those who are already tired of Christmas before it even arrives.
C – Clean out a closet and share my possessions with others through a local thrift shop.
E – Extend myself today to give generously of my time.
P – Pray the O Antiphons in celebration of these final days of preparation.
E – Embody the work of Jesus today as a teaching, healing, liberating presence.
A – Advocate for world peace in some small way today.
C – Create pathways of peace at work or church today.
E – Enjoy my Christmas tree and be grateful for the memories each ornament holds.