In the liturgy on this third day of the Advent-Christmas season, the Church expands our hearts to take in the length and breadth and height and depth of God’s love in Christ. We are immediately reminded, as we pull out our nativities and advent wreaths and Christmas decorations, as we make our lists for Christmas gift-giving and party-throwing, that the birth of Christ brings eternity into time such that time now has meaning only in light of the Kingdom of Love that will last forever and ever. It is the Last Day of the Old Creation and the First Day of the New Creation. It is about the Day that we await with ardent hearts and fervent longing: the return of Christ.
On that day…
the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.
We will see this gentle image on the Christmas cards we receive and send, but how much more do we long in our hearts for this Peace that we have not yet experienced. There is too much “harm and ruin” in the world, shattering our hearts and hopes and security and trust.
But there it is. Isaiah has foretold it. It shall be. On that day there shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountains; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.
In today’s world, who can believe this? Who can believe that a tiny Child, the Son of God, who lived but thirty-three years two thousand years ago in a small and poor countryside could be about such a Kingdom, could bring about such a Peace.
Only a child.
We cannot stand with our hands at our sides waiting for this consummation beyond time of Isaiah’s joyful prophecy to be bestowed upon us. We have no reason to throw up our hands and cry out that things are getting worse and that the birth of God on earth has not brought about the kingdom of love that he preached.
The Gospel passage today follows immediately upon the return of the seventy disciples who had been sent out two by two to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand. Notice. They were not to proclaim that if people changed their lives and listened to them that the kingdom would come. They weren’t announcing that the kingdom would arrive as the result of a perfectly executed evangelization plan. No. It was a simple message. The kingdom is at hand. It is here. It is now.
So powerful was this message that Jesus told them that as a result of their preaching this message he had seen Satan fall like lightning from the sky.
At that moment, Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said,
“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.”
It is only the childlike who can continue to announce the arrival of the kingdom of love in a world filled with insecurity, violence, and even hate. With even greater mystery than his sending the seventy-two disciples out to preach the kingdom, Christ continues in the Catholic Church to send out the “seventy-two” to preach the kingdom. He continues today to live and love and speak just as truly as when two thousand years ago he called to himself twelve apostles, preached throughout Galilee, and healed and reconciled and prayed and loved. Christ makes use of the Church so that the work he began in his lifetime might endure until the Second Coming. It is we today who are sent to announce that the kingdom is at hand.
Who can believe this?
Only a child.
If we try to make sense of it, we will not be able to. If we try to explain the existence of evil in the world in relation to Isaiah’s prophecy, it will not be possible.
God has hidden these things from the wise and the learned. If we want to believe we must receive the revelation that the Father wishes to give to us. To receive it, we must be childlike.
Saint John Paul II helps us see that being childlike is not being naïve. It is believing that the Word of God has the last word in history. He stated on the World Day of Prayer for Peace in 1978: “We find, in Christ, a hope. Setbacks cannot render vain the work of peace, even if the immediate results prove to be fragile, even if we are persecuted for our witness in favor of peace. Christ the Savior associates with his destiny all those who work with love for peace…. Do not be afraid to take a chance on peace, to teach peace. The aspiration for peace will not be disappointed for ever. Work for peace, inspired by charity which does not pass away, will produce its fruits. Peace will be the last word of History.”