“Observe what is right, do what is just.” Isaiah 56:1
Have you ever met a person that you felt was holy, or the closest to holy that you might encounter as a person living in this day and age?
As I reflect back I think I’ve met a couple of people whom I would call holy. My sense of their holiness had nothing to do with their status in or detachment from the world. Rather, they were engaged fully in life and were willing to let go of personal comfort in order to accomplish the works they felt called by God to do. They didn’t seem perfect; they just seemed very alive and committed. What stood out for me was that, without fanfare or self-aggrandizement, they really were observing what was right and doing what was just.
As I write this reflection, I find myself thinking about all the genuinely good people I know, each charting a path in the direction of kindness, compassion, and fairness. In fact, I believe the world is teeming with communities of good-hearted individuals. There really are saints and holy ones and an abundance of decent people among us. So with so much goodness in the world, how is it, then, that justice is so elusive?
As Christians during Advent, we are preparing our hearts to welcome Jesus into the world. God comes to us a helpless child; who doesn’t want to be ready to reach out in love to the baby in the manger? Who doesn’t want to draw closer to God as we gaze through our mind’s eye into the innocent eyes, the delicate cheeks, the tender mouth of the newborn Christ?
But the love we feel for the child at Christmas carries with it an awareness of the man he will become; the one who will go to the Cross and suffer. So as we buoyantly rejoice at his birth, we also remember those among us who carry a cross today. We make a sacrifice to help the poor; we say a prayer for the lonely and reach out to the forgotten. Justice cries out from the manger and is soothed by the love and care we generously give.
It seems to me that the genuinely holy ones among us hear the cry for justice throughout the year and sacrifice of themselves to answer it. That takes real guts. In the Gospel Jesus says that the works he performs are themselves testimony that God has sent him. What are the works that we are called to accomplish? How can we, who seek to be good and loving people, name and further the cause of justice? Christmas, perhaps, is a beautiful gift wrapped in a question: am I observing rightly; am I acting justly?
Nancy Nickel is the former director of communications at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago, Illinois.