Advent: Searching for Peace
A lot of my research as a scholar is focused on reconciliation in the Pauline letters of the New Testament. This passion for reconciliation between humans and God, between humans and other humans, and between humans and the rest of creation is one of the things that first caught my attention with regard to the Six8 Fellowship. I genuinely believe that the Six8 Fellowship is seeking to fulfill God’s calling to spread the biblical message of God’s reconciliation throughout the world.
Yet, at the end of another year, the challenges of being an agent of God’s reconciliation (as Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 5:17-20) weigh heavy on me.
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (NRSV).
Scripture proclaims that God’s reconciliation brings with it peace, but as I look around the world, I notice that the world is currently not at peace. There is still considerable violence and suffering. It’s exhausting to think that despite all the energy that I have put into proclaiming Christ’s peace, the majority of the world still remains separated from God and from each other and from the goodness of God’s creation as God intended it to be. What is a radical, messenger of Christian reconciliation like myself supposed to do?
The season of Advent provides a response to my potential despair. Advent includes the four Sundays before Christmas. It is a time of expecting and preparing, so that we are ready to receive the gift of Christ. The four Sundays of Advent each have a theme: the first Sunday is hope, the second Sunday is peace, the third Sunday is joy, the fourth Sunday is love.
This last Sunday was the second Sunday of advent, and the theme was peace. The Revised Common Lectionary suggests certain Bible verses that many Christians read together on this Sunday. For this week, they suggest two texts from the Gospel of Luke; both texts emphasize the way that Christ’s coming will transform the injustices of the world and bring about reconciliation and peace.
The text of Luke 1:68-79 contains the words of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. He announces that God has promised to rescue God’s people from the hands of their enemies. He calls this the salvation of God. Zechariah proclaims that “by the forgiveness of their sins and by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (1:77b-79, NRSV).
The second passage is from Luke 3; in this passage, the grown-up John the Baptist proclaims from the words of Isaiah the prophet that his job is to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (3:4-5, NRSV).
Both texts speak of the salvation of our God, as bringing peace and reconciliation to the world. When I read these texts, I find myself saying “YES!” This is what I want – I want to see God’s peace and reconciliation throughout the world. And then I find myself frustrated again, why isn’t the world already fully reconciled? What do I need to do?
The Christians who helped to shaped the church’s traditions such as Advent are much wiser than I am. They knew that those of us who long for peace might be frustrated. So, they organized the weeks of Advent so that peace is preceded by a week dedicated to hope. For a whole week, I have had to sit in hope; I’ve waited in expectation. Hope places my desire for peace inside the context of my Christian faith.
At the end of one year and the beginning of the next, when I might be tempted to try to measure how much I’ve accomplished or not accomplished with regard to spreading the message of reconciliation, I am reminded in the season of Advent that the work of reconciliation is not up to me. Reconciliation is God’s work. I do not bring peace, rather I hope for the coming of Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace.
I sit in the season of hope and am reminded that my faith is in God who is working even when I can’t measure all of the results. So, even when I don’t see peace, I know that God is at work reconciling the world to God’s self.