When I was working on my doctorate, for a class project I created a map of wars for the preceding century. I don’t remember the specifics of the project, but I spent hours placing small dot stickers every place in the world that had been active in war. I had nightmares for weeks after discovering that the planet has not ever been free of war in recorded human history. Always, there has been war somewhere, often many somewheres.
As I sit here contemplating Advent peace, I hear my mother telling my high school self how privileged and spoiled my generation is because we did not know the impact of war. I didn’t know what she meant and she didn’t know that some of my earliest memories are of watching footage of body bags returning from Vietnam. In her certainty that my generation would have been more patriotic and more like hers if we had grown up with the damage war does, she was ignoring the fact that we were already shaped by the warring generations who had come before us. And she couldn’t have known how dramatically my experience of war would change, or how soon. A few months later was the Beirut bombing where the largest number of U.S. military personal was killed since Vietnam. It was stunning and horrifying. I knew young people who were Marines at the time. Friends of friends died in the bombing. I wondered how such a thing could happen…
Less than a decade later I watched the bombing of Baghdad on the news from a seminary dorm room. I sat in mute silence, wondering how we could possibly be at war. My mother was wrong. My generation knows more than its fair share of war, as has every generation of human beings. We are fortunate here in the U.S., though. It’s not very often war touches us closely and personally on a daily basis. Many of us are comfortable in forgetting that we are a nation that has been at war for fifteen years. We can entangle patriotism, nationalism, Christianity, and white supremacy without really questioning it because our cities and homes aren’t being blown up. And if we keep everything the way it’s been (whatever that means), then we’re safe from all that goes on with “those people,” you know, the ones who live “over there.” This distance, the forgetting, this tangling religion and nationalism makes it easier for many folks to blame refugees and bolster xenophobia. What happened to compassion? What happened to freedom of religion? What happened to caring for widows, the poor, the aliens among us?
Into these thoughts comes John the Baptist’s cry, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” The yearning I feel for the day the lion and lamb lie down together is strong enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yet, I suspect humanity is still more akin to a brood of vipers than inhabitants of God’s holy mountain. The more I read about increased suicides and hate crimes the more I think the adder and the asp are still in biting moods. The truth of it all seems to be that humanity is not willing to take the risk of peace. We are too fond of our illusion of control that war and weapons bring, to risk doing something different.
Yet, the Baptist’s cry echoes through this wilderness we have created. God’s ancient promise of peace lends strength and credence to the echoes. This call to prepare for the way of God really should not continue to be ignored. We must be the ones who prepare the way. We can’t wait for someone else to do it. We cannot reach out for peace with one hand while holding weapons of fear in the other. What will it take for us to slow down, hear the cries of the Christ-child in the far-off manger? More importantly, what are we going to do to ensure that the Child comes into the world with such power that humanity can take a collective step toward peace?
Singing carols, exchanging gifts, and attending parties are all fine activities. They are a way to sooth our weary souls for a few minutes or a few hours at a time. Consider doing something else, too, though. What is God up to where you are? Go and do that. Who needs radical hospitality and unconditional love in your neighborhood? If we can do these things in our Advent waiting, then we might just find our way to Bethlehem to greet the Child. We might just find enough hope to believe that Peace is really possible.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
RCL – Year A – Second Sunday in Advent – December 4, 2016