Last week was the second week of Advent, so throughout the week we lit the candle of peace alongside the candle of hope. This second candle is also the candle of the holy family.
With hope and the prophets, the connection is clear. But what about peace and the holy family? If anything, the coming of Jesus disrupted their peace: the peace of Mary’s life, when she accepts her supernatural pregnancy and all of its possible consequences; the peace of Joseph’s life, as he learns that his betrothed will have child that is not his own; the peace of their small family, as Jesus is born at an inconvenient time and as the political consequences of bearing a king forces the young family to flee their country as refugees.
As I was thinking about peace this week, though, I began thinking about how sin manifests in broken relationships between people and how the peace that Jesus brings can heal those relationships.
Peace is not just the absence of conflict, whether neighbors ignoring each other as they carefully mow to the edge of their lawn or nations existing in a state of uneasy détente. True peace is not agreeing to disagree while silently looking down on a friend, nor is it constantly stifling rage and frustration to exchange banal pleasantries.
Instead, peace brings healing and restoration, understanding and compassion. This type of peace can weather conflict, and even exist during disagreements; this peace recognizes the dignity of others by honoring their status as beloved children of God. This peace brings unity without forcing uniformity.
This peace, the peace that Jesus promises, is the remedy for sin that disrupts our relationships with each other and with God. It’s deeper and richer and, yes, much harder to achieve than mere pleasantness or forced conformity. It’s a peace that exceeds the ability of fallen humanity, a peace available only through God.
And that brings us back to the holy family. God supernaturally restores peace between Joseph and Mary: Joseph, feeling betrayed by the woman he was to marry; Mary, surely fearful that her unwed pregnancy will erase her place in her community. But God brings them together, brings peace into their relationship, as they come together to raise the Son of God.
We see this peace in Mary and Joseph’s relationship only in small glimpses: as Joseph takes Mary and Jesus to Egypt, fleeing Herod; as Mary and Joseph search, both frantic, for their 12-year-old son in Jerusalem.
Did Joseph fully believe, fully understand who his son was? We have no way of knowing for sure. But we can see the peace of God at work in his life as he builds a life with Mary, with Jesus, with the other children that arrived. A peace that restored and preserved relationships that otherwise would have fractured.
I like to think about Mary at Advent: her willingness to become the mother of God, her passionate magnificat, the way she hides all the marvels and ponders them in her heart. But Joseph, too, shows a willingness to let God transform his life and rebuild what seemed to be destroyed when he learned that Mary was pregnant with a child not his own.
Peace will look different in each of our lives, as each of us has relationships broken and strained in different ways and each of us tends to harm others in different ways.
But this Advent season, may the peace of Christ dwell richly in us as the body of Christ, so that we can know the power of Jesus to heal the effects of sin in our communities.