Reconciliation and Advent
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hb. 12:13-15).
We need to be reconciled with everyone. This is a high calling, but it is everything. It is one of our most fundamental jobs as Christians to be reconciled, to be at peace, with everyone. Yet, this is the part of our faith that we are usually most oblivious too, or the job we put off for another day. But there is no other day. Christmas is a season of brightness. It is a season of celebration. Yet, we cannot enter into the joy of Christmas if our heart is holding onto a grudge or to bitterness. If we cannot enter the joy of Christmas, how can we expect to enter the joy of paradise? This is our task in the remaining weeks of Advent.
Christmas is launched off with the angels singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men of good will” (Lk. 2:14). It is a proclamation, like our vestments on Rose Sunday. Something is coming. While it is dark outside, the sun is beginning to rise. Even in the austere fast of Advent, we can smell the feast cooking in the kitchen. Yet, the angels’ announcement has a warning in it. “Peace to men of good will.” The first Christmas day made peace available to the world, with a catch. Only men of goodwill receive the peace. Only hearts reconciled with everyone can tap into God’s feast. The angels’ exuberant announcement is a mountainous challenge.
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone…that no bitter root grows up” (Hb. 12:13-15).
That old parable says it all. Once, a soul was caught up and brought off to hell. Stretched out for miles, there was a long table decked in the most delicious food. All your favorite plates were spread out, like Thanksgiving dinner. The aroma was so rich and wonderful you would think you could barely stand it. Well, alongside that table sat guests with very angry expressions. Each was ferociously hungry, but not one could get food in his mouth. For, you see, they held long forks which, when they tried to bring food to their mouths, would knock over the glasses and hit their neighbors in the head. So determined to serve themselves, they ended up forever barred from the pleasures of the feast.
Then the soul was caught up once more and ushered off to heaven. He saw the same table there, with the same delicious food and the same long forks. Yet, this time, the guests were beaming with joy. Each used his or her long fork to reach over and feed one’s neighbor. We need to learn to be reconciled here on earth. Our ability to love now extends into eternity.
Recently, a deacon in the Church led an Advent retreat on Reconciliation. He gave four goals for us Christians. First, commit to peace. Second, pay attention to your conscience. Third, take the initiative to reconcile. Fourth, take one hundred percent responsibility for your own wrongdoing.
Commit to peace. Jesus Christ does not say much about Christian worship, and what he does is unexpected. Matthew five, verse twenty-four:
“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
I really wish he did not say this. Personally, I would prefer him to teach something along the lines of: “First, worship God at the altar, and then afterwards try to get along with other people.” But he does not. In fact, God is so concerned that we are reconciled with one another that he says it comes first before worship. He is speaking to the Church. If we are not at peace with someone, then our worship is invalidated. I think it is easy to sweep this teaching under the rug, but it will catch up with us. Jesus says to “go” and be reconciled. It is not a suggestion. It is a commandment.
Pay attention to your conscience. St. Paul writes: “I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense towards God and men” (Acts 24:16). We can quench the Holy Spirit. We can stamp it out, block it off – bury the voice of God in our heart. Whenever we offend someone or are offended and justify it or shrug it off, a scar cuts in our soul. Eventually, the calluses build up and we do not even know it. So we have to dig deep. Is there anyone I have offended? Is there any one with whom I need to be reconciled? Am I at perfect peace with everyone?
Take initiative to reconcile. “Do not let the sun set upon your anger” (Eph. 4:26). I have a friend who lives by this principle. If there is any confrontation, he insists on working through it as soon as possible. To tell you the truth, it has always driven me crazy. If I get in a dispute, I want to just leave. “Pack the bags and move on.” Yet, this is not God’s way. All the verses quoted just now are specifically talking about the Christian community. We cannot take seriously enough the harm of a wedge between ourselves: “[a] bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile”. In the end, all of our beliefs and actions will boil down to one thing: how we loved one another.
Take one hundred percent responsibility for your own wrongdoing. Christ said enough: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Mt. 7:3). The message is clear.
Our gospel this Sunday is about preparation. The Jews sent priests and Levites to John, to ask him: “Who are you?” He replied: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias” (Jn. 1:23). Our eternity is sealed up in our ability to forgive and be reconciled. This is our undertaking through the season of Advent. With the coming of Christ some two weeks away, will he find in our hearts peace? May God give us strength to let go of our pride and find reconciliation with all.