The Brood: On Hope, and Advent, and (Possible) Peace on Earth

by Holly Mohr

I came across a James Martin article recently. He was talking about what it means for Christians to celebrate Christmas. In it, he named three main ways Christians observe Christ’s coming. The first and most obvious, of course, is the historical commemoration of Jesus’s birth into the world two thousand years ago. The second is about the Christian belief that Christ will come again at the end of time. Christmas offers Christians an opportunity not just to remember Jesus coming as a plump little baby, but also gives us messianic hope—this place, this state of things, is not all. We still await Christ, that time “when God will be all in all.”

Catholics, and probably some other Christians too, put a lot of emphasis on Advent, the month or so before Christmas that we dedicate to “preparation.” We make a big deal out of the fact that we’re not “supposed” to “celebrate” Christmas “yet.”

What this looks like takes various forms, from self-imposed fasting from Christmas movies and music until December 25, to waiting to put up a tree until Christmas Eve, to simply feeling guilty for all the fun we are having in the early days of December.

Don’t get me wrong—I love Advent. It’s actually my favorite time of the Church Year, after Triduum (don’t get me started on Triduum). I love Advent for the sense of stillness and mystery, for the palpable anticipation and greater emphasis on the spiritual life. I love candles, shadows . . . I love the prophecies from Isaiah that name who this God will be (Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace), what kind of kingdom he’ll usher in (one where lions lie down with lambs, serpents and children hang out together in safety). Let’s be honest—I probably love Advent a whole lot more than actual Christmas.

That being said, there’s a strong Catholic ethos that tells us to wait in anticipation in a kind of moralistic way. (Don’t watch Home Alone 2 on December 1 because it will get in the way of my preparing for the end times)? We do a lot to make the season spiritual, offering more opportunities for Confession and Reconciliation, distributing special prayer books. Again, I love it, I’m into it.

James Martin’s suggestion of the third thing Christians celebrate at Christmas is Christ being born in our lives, over and over again, concretely, really, here and now. And no, it’s not the first time I’ve heard that, but it hit differently for me this year.

My husband and I went to an Over the Rhine concert this past weekend—“Acoustic Christmas,” they call it. I anticipated it being one more stolen bit of “early Christmas” I would enjoy the hell out of, then feel guilty for (too much fun in Advent, obviously).

In spite of the name, the concert brought me some Advent in a pretty significant way.

“Can I receive Peace on Earth this year?” the lead singer asked herself at one point in the show.

And it clicked for me in a new way. Yeah, that’s really a question for me. If Peace on Earth is being offered to me on Christmas, if there is really a gift given, a grace given, every year on this Catholic Holy Day we call Christmas, am I able to receive that? Can I make space for peace?

That might sound trite, and it no doubt looks like an obvious and tired question. But the fact that it struck me as an actual question this year feels new. Every year I live my early, guilty Christmas, watching my movies, going to my Phipps exhibit, listening to my acoustic Christmas jazz on low in my office so my boss doesn’t hear my liturgically inappropriate music. Meanwhile, I dive into Advent in a hopeful, but always-already dejected way: yes, I love the prophecies, yes, I love an excuse to do more spiritual reading, but “preparing” for the end times feels too far off. Preparing for December 25, a day that usually means tons of emotional upheaval, simply doesn’t inspire the way I’d like it to.

But a season to prepare to receive Peace on Earth? That takes clearing out; that takes space. I get that. Is it possible Peace on Earth is really offered every Christmas, and I just haven’t had what it takes to receive it? As I examine the still far-too-snarky insides I call my heart and conscience, I have to answer, maybe. Likely. Yeah, that tracks.

The question has been exciting me for the past few days. What can I possibly do to make space for Peace on Earth? I’ve been finding some extra stony places in my heart lately. I know those need to be chiseled away to receive Peace on Earth. Receiving Peace on Earth in my heart would mean finding a way to maintain good boundaries while at the same time offering unconditional love.

I don’t do that well at all. I usually swing from one of those poles to the other, affirming others while poisoning myself, or walling off my heart and filling my eyes with judgment. What would it look like, in my actions, but mostly actually in my heart, to find space for all of us?

I don’t fully know the answer to that, but it’s a project I’m excited to tackle. And it will take preparation. I get it. My Advent isn’t about waiting for some eclectic combo of Jesus plus Kevin McCallister plus candy canes plus Santa come December 25—my kids and I can and are doing that now, yes, even in this season of waiting.

But doing the actual work of preparing my heart, finding my tough spots, and re-learning how to love at this space in life? I’m on it. There’s got to be at least a little space I can make for Peace on Earth. Here’s hoping. For real this year.

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