Homily: God is Both

December 19 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Readings: Micah 5:1-4 / Hebrews 10:5-10 / Luke 1:39-45

The following is the homily I will be delivering this morning at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis:

It is the Fourth Sunday of Advent and we continue to light our candles. On the First Sunday we lit a purple candle representing hope. The second Sunday – another purple candle representing faith. Last week, Gaudete Sunday – a pink candle representing joy.

There is apparently some controversy when it comes to the Fourth Sunday. Fr. Francis said the fourth candle, also purple in color, represents love. I’d always heard it represents peace. I, of course, wanted to be right – so I did some research. The sources I checked were split, some said the fourth candle was love, others said peace.

This is what I have decided: It doesn’t matter. While the words peace and love are not interchangeable, they are intertwined. When the love of God is present, there is peace. When we are at peace, we experience the love of God.

All of us experience the love of God, a closeness to God, in our own way. For my wife, it is creating art. For others it is listening to music or having coffee with a good friend. Perhaps for you it is sitting in silence or immersing yourself in prayer or being part of a community at Mass. Whatever it is, you know when you’re in the midst of it, God is there with you.

For me, that closeness with God is found in nature. I never see a beautiful sunrise or sunset without experiencing God. When watching a lightning storm, taking a hike in the woods, or staring at a waterfall, I feel God’s loving embrace. I am certain of his love.

Of all my nature experiences, my favorite is being in a rowboat on a lake early in the morning. I want to be out there when the lake is smooth as glass, the mist is visible coming off the water, and the sun first peeks over the horizon. I’m pretty sure that is what heaven will be like.

I love sitting alone in the boat in the silence while all that is happening. It then becomes clear to me I am actually not alone. God sits in the boat with me, gestures toward it all and says, “I did this all for you, to show you how much I love you.”

When our kids were just starting their own families, we went to a cabin in Wisconsin for several summers in a row. As everyone was heading to bed, I would announce that I’d be getting up at 4:30 a.m. to go out on the lake if anyone wanted to go with me. I chose 4:30 strategically. I knew that would give me plenty of time to get out on the lake and see the world gradually wake up in the stillness. I also knew that by saying “4:30” there was no chance anyone would be interested in going with me.

Just me and God in the boat experiencing his handiwork and feeling his love.

************

I remember when my daughter, Laura, had her first child. She had given birth and everyone had a quick visit and went back home. Carol and I stayed at the hospital with the new little family. It was evening and I left to get something from the car. When I returned, the room was dark except for the dim light of a small lamp in the corner. Laura was asleep in the hospital bed. Joey, her husband, was asleep in a chair. Carol was holding baby Ellie on the couch. Seeing me enter the room, she handed the sleeping child to me. Carol then laid her head back, closed her eyes, and was soon asleep herself.

It started to rain outside and the drops hit lightly against the windows. Light from the moon shined into the room. As I looked around the room, I thought to myself, “All is right with the world.” I was at peace.

Within that sense of peace, I recognized the love of God. I discovered God was right there on the couch, sitting between Carol and I. He locked eyes with me and said, “I did this all for you, to show you how much I love you.”

************

Two separate experiences: In the first, I felt God’s loving presence so strongly that I was at peace. In the second, I was so at peace that I felt God’s loving presence. As I said earlier, the words ‘peace’ and ‘love’ are not interchangeable; neither are the feelings of love and peace. However, they are intertwined.

In the first reading from the Prophet Micah we heard, “…for now his greatness and majesty shall reach to the ends of the earth; we shall be at peace.

So, it makes sense that the people I know that have the strongest faith – the closest relationship with God – seem to be the most at peace.

All of this is interesting to reflect on, but how does it help us in our day-to-day lives?

I think it challenges us in two ways: to search for peace and to open ourselves up to God’s loving presence.

We live in stressful times. We allow the chaos of the world to steal our peace. We are unsettled and anxious. The best word I can think of to describe the feeling is that we sometimes feel “hollow.” We can’t quite put our finger on the reason, but we know we are not at peace.

Those are the times we need to care for ourselves. We need to go to the places or engage in the experiences we know God is present – where we have found Him in the past and have confidence He still resides. We need to immerse ourselves in our artwork, listen to our favorite music, be active in our faith community, call friends to meet for coffee, get out on lakes in rowboats.

We know God is in those places and experiences, so we must return to Him. It is there, in his loving embrace, that we will find peace.

Alternatively, we occasionally – despite the chaos, anxiety, and hopelessness – experience an unexpected sense of peace. It catches us off-guard, but suddenly our hearts are filled and a calm comes over us. Perhaps in the midst of a terrible morning, someone gives you a smile and a warm hug to greet you; someone compliments you or affirms you in some way and you feel valued; you read something that gives you pause or brings you joy.

It is at those times we need to consider the possibility that these were not chance encounters. God was smiling at you and hugging you. God was working through the person that made you feel valued. God was directing you to whatever brought you that moment of joy.

We shouldn’t view our moments of peace as chance encounters, but rather as God tapping us on the shoulder and assuring us of his love, attempting to embrace us.

When we are in the midst of God’s love and open to receiving it, we will find peace. When we are at peace and take the time to consider its source, we will find love. Peace and love are not interchangeable, but they are intertwined.

God is both.

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