Major celebrations in the Christian calendar are a great time to pull out texts from antiquity that relate to a current event. It really helps to connect you with the traditions we will celebrate in the coming days. With that in mind, I began conducting searches on Logos for texts and sermons on Christmas.
I enjoyed reading quite a few selections, but there was one that stood out to me above the rest. It is a sermon by Pope Leo the Great (r. 440-461). In it, he asks listeners to meditate on what would be a worthy gift to give the Lord on the day of his birth. In Leo’s thinking, the only gift worthy of the Lord’s majesty is the peace we receive from God himself. He writes:
But in the treasures of the Lord’s bounty what can we find so suitable to the honour of the present feast as the peace, which at the Lord’s nativity was first proclaimed by the angel-choir?
As Leo’s sermon continues, he quotes the Apostle Paul from the Book of Romans using an alternate, more infrequently used, meaning to the Greek word πρός (transliteration: pros). I think that is significant because the translation of one word can change the meaning of the text. Here is the more common translation:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with (πρός) God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1, RSV)
Here is the way Pope Leo quotes the same verse:
Being justified therefore by faith let us have peace towards (πρός) God through our Lord Jesus Christ
I don’t think the alternate meaning for the Greek word πρός is insignificant. I mean it’s not as if one is simply changing happy to glad. Having peace with God is, in my mind, an initiative undertaken by God. He is the one offering peace to us and we are free to accept or decline it. But to have peace towards God is something we must do. I suppose it is the choice of translation Leo employed, and the subsequent direction it took the rest of his sermon, that brought it to the forefront among all the other readings I looked at today.
Pope Leo instructs his listeners (and us) that where there is peace towards God, “there is no lack of virtue” and by living virtuous lives we will “wish what He bids, and not wish what He forbids.” Making use of analogies, Leo likens our relationship with God to our earthly friendships, where we struggle to reach a “similarity of desires” so that we may attain peace among our friends. The pope cuts to the quick by asking his listeners:
[H]ow will he be partaker of divine peace, who is pleased with what displeases God and desires to get delight from what he knows to be offensive to God?
Simply put, we cannot have peace towards God if we are intent on doing the things that are displeasing to him. Similarly, we will not experience peace with God either if we insist upon taking a path that leads us away from him.
In building up his audience at the end of his sermon, Pope Leo refers to them as “the noble family of the adopted” and as the “chosen and royal race.” We too, in 2012, are part of the “noble family of the adopted,” who should sing out Gloria in excelsis Deo in our loudest voices as our Advent journey draws to a close and the holy season of Christmas begins (cf. Romans 8:15, Gal 3:25-26, 1 Pt 2:9). Meanwhile, in the quiet depths of our hearts, let us offer peace towards God by offering him the words his beloved Son taught us to pray: “Thy will be done” (Mt 6:10). In doing so, we will be acknowledging the peace we have received from the Lord and return it to him by willingly placing our lives in his hands.