Three weeks of advent have now passed. In many traditions, the focus is around Hope, Love and Joy. The past three weeks have felt like anything but hopeful, loving or joyful in this country and around the world.
Shots rang out, opinions flared and we are a house divided as we reflect on the violence that took place in Connecticut last week. The difficult part for many of us is that this violence was an unspeakable display of other horrors which take place on a daily basis throughout our world. All parties grieve, and focusing on the Holy Days at hand has become difficult at best. In our human nature, some have moved aggressively to the offensive and others to the defensive position and a new battle is raging in the wake of the violence at Sandy Hook.
The final week before Christmas Eve and Christmas day is often the celebration of peace.
An elusive little word with a seemingly more elusive existence. Peace is something that even we as Christians can’t figure out how to agree upon within our own traditions. Is peace brought when we sit silently in the face of horror so long as we don’t mention it? Or is peace ushered in by shouting from the rooftops when injustice takes place crying out for intervention and believing (or hoping) it will come swiftly and effectively? Is peace marked more by inaction than action or the reverse?
There is a deeper meaning to peace than the absence of conflict. Those unwilling to engage in honest struggles often claim from their high horse that they are taking the high road. In reality they often issue their own moral condemnation, drawing the circle ever tighter as to who is and is not acceptable in the inner circle of their faith. This circle, drawn tighter tends to breed fervent conversation from other like minded people looking out at those they once called brothers and sisters with disdain and distrust.
Where do we find peace in this?
The translation of peace into English often comes from the Hebrew term Shalom. Shalom helps us to bridge this gap. Shalom is the unique contribution to a greater depth understanding of peace. It holds a much thicker meaning than the typical translation of peace. Perry Yoder, Emeritus Professor of OT, offers three fundamental features to shalom 1)well being 2) right relationships 3) the acquisition of virtue. It cannot exist apart from one another or all three of these elements. (Yoder, The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice and Peace, 130) “Shalom opens the possibility that what is just is more than simply following standards already in place. Rather, the standards, the relevancy of the definition of both the recipient and good, are taken into account. Subsequently, shalom is sought both in the process and the conclusion.” (Jacober, The Adolescent Journey, 137)
This longing for shalom can become all consuming and must take into account both the process and conclusion.
Maybe this is just what we need at advent. Maybe we need to be consumed. Consumed with the Prince of Peace and recalling not only do we look forward to His coming but that He has already arrived. He is here, in this season and all year long. Hope is not lost, even in the face of unspeakable tragedy.
Perhaps we can recall that Christ Himself did not enter the world at a time of peace. Birth itself is an act of struggle and pain with the peace that follows often being a result of a mixture of exhaustion and deep satisfaction at a task worth doing. As an infant in His mothers arms, Jesus and His parents fled for their very lives. His life was filled with struggles and difficulties culminating in a violent death on the cross. And all of this strife and struggle to offer one thing, shalom. Shalom in the sense of seeking well being for all, right relationship with God and others and the ability to acquire virtue or sanctification.
We have been invited to be imitators of Christ. Just as He entered violently into a violent world seeking to usher in peace, we too join God in seeking to bring about His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. At times, this is a beautiful and joyful experience. At other times it is painful and violent. At all times it should be toward the end of peace culminating in the celebration of the one who modeled so well for us, the Prince of Peace.