When we think of Christmas, we often think of shopping, gifts, parties, and relatives visiting. Preparing for Christmas can be a stressful time. However stressful the preparations are, however, it is important to slow down to light candles, tell Jesse Tree stories, and prepare for the birth of our Savior with a peaceful presence about us.
Two figures that can help us prepare for Christ’s birth are John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mother. In the canticle of Zechariah in Luke’s Gospel, Zechariah sings of John’s purpose to herald the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. John’s purpose in preparing us for Christmas is fourfold: to bring knowledge of salvation, to bring forgiveness of sins, to give light in the darkness, and to guide us in the way of peace (see Luke 1:76-79).
How can John the Baptist guide us in the way of peace during Advent?
First, John modeled for us simplicity. He lived a simple life, keeping his focus on Christ in everything he did. We, too, can keep focused on the purpose of Christmas, which is celebrating the birth of our Lord, and keep him as our focus even in our daily tasks this Advent.
Second, John lived a life of fasting. We too can make little sacrifices for others during Advent, thereby keeping the focus off of consumerism and placing it on our relationships — with Christ and with others.
Third, John forgave others. We too can make a commitment to forgive others this Advent. In forgiveness therapy there is a belief that anger is due to a lack of forgiveness and a lack of forgiveness is due to anger. The two go together; they feed off each other. Thus if you are feeling angry, practice forgiveness. What a great time to offer the gift of forgiveness to a loved one or coworker!
Fourth, John lived a virtuous life. We too can focus on increasing the good in our lives and letting go of the negative. Thinking about what virtue or good we would like to practice more during this Advent season will bring about more peace for us. We can see that John’s way of peace includes simplicity, fasting, forgiveness, and increasing virtues. These are great practices to begin this Advent as a way of keeping your life peaceful during an otherwise stressful time.
The Blessed Virgin Mary is another figure that prepares us for Christ’s birth at Christmas. Robert Schuller once said, “Joy is not the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” When speaking about the Blessed Mother, we could easily change this quote to say: “Peace is not the absence of chaos. It is the presence of Christ.” Mary had a chaotic life, beginning with the Annunciation of the Lord followed by the birth of her son. The Annunciation heralded a change of plans and her becoming pregnant at a young age. Mary traveled during the first trimester of her pregnancy, helped Elizabeth with daily chores, had a husband who wanted to abandon her, went on an arduous journey (this time in her third trimester), and experienced rejection in Bethlehem with no place to rest. And yet she lived a great example of peacefulness amidst her seemingly stressful life.
Mary’s face in many sculptures, paintings, and images exemplifies the peace she must have exuded in her life. Mary’s peace did not equal laziness or lack of activity, but came from putting Christ at the center of all she did. We too can gain that same peaceful nature this Advent, by putting Christ at the center of all we do. Mary also gave her best to the Lord. Her “yes” was the ultimate gift she could give and she offered that “yes” peacefully.
What is our best? What can we give to our Lord this Advent season? Sometimes our best is something concrete, such as our talent, time, and treasure. Sometimes our best is a desire of our hearts, such as wanting more children or a new home.
When I was a child, my parents would have my siblings and me create a list of Christmas gifts we wanted that year. Then they would find children in need who were the same age and sex as we were. My parents then asked us to give our No. 1 item to that child and cross it off our list. It was a huge sacrifice for us — and a lesson in giving our best to God.
One year my brother wanted an action figure and was very upset that he was being asked to give that same action figure to another boy who had very few, if any, toys. He balked at giving his best and did it only reluctantly that year. Once it was gone, he knew it was off his list for the year, at least from my parents. However, our aunt, not knowing it was his best gift and he had given it away, gave him that same action figure for Christmas that year. The joy on his face was radiant, and he exclaimed, “I’m giving God my best every year!”
What is your best? Just like the Blessed Virgin Mary, what can you give to Christ this year, knowing that the reward of giving is beautiful?
For us to gain peace this Advent season, all we need to do is follow in the footsteps of St. John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary. So, as you light your Advent candles and read your Jesse Tree stories, remember that you are creating Advent peace in your lives.