It’s the first day of the first week after the first Sunday of the Advent season. I fully understand that this should be about hope, and here I am thinking about peace. Stay with me…
In the book, Illuminate, An Advent Experience, this is what I read, this morning: “Hope is an odd thing to understand. We typically think of hope as a good thing. Yet hope is rarely found in places where good things happen regularly. Rather, hope is found in places where bad things happen, such as when we experience hurt and loss. So if you meet people who are hopeful, they can usually tell you stories of pain or suffering” (Sheneman, 16).
The Psalmist implores:
“How long, Lord… may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. Help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake” (Psalm 79:5, 8-9, NIV).
We’ve been watching and waiting for 24 hours, and we’re already desperate. It’s interesting that the next words we read in this text include an inquiry about how God might destroy our enemies in order to bring peace to us in the way we expect and desire peace to come. Does this even make sense? The prophet Micah says no:
“Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever” (Micah 4:3-5, NIV).
We don’t have to fight. No one has to be destroyed. It seems that there might be enough space for all of humanity, if we would just go out and find our own tree… Hope and peace, intricately tied together, are not about conquering our enemies but rather about making room for them.
In all of this, I have been thinking about what it is to actually suffer, as well. I have been thinking about what it is to be in a place where hope is found precisely because the suffering is so great. And I’m not sure we (you… I… whoever) grasp what this really means. If we’re coming at it from any kind of privilege; I’m not sure we can. That is not to dismiss any real suffering and tragedy that happens in our lives, but we have to make a distinction between pain and offense. If, at any point, our response is, “I’m offended, so I am suffering;” we’ve got it wrong. And there is no time during the church year that I see offense more prominently than during Advent.
I recently ran across a quote that went something like this: “Rather than putting Christ back in Christmas, I would settle for putting Christ back in Christian.”
And so I’m pondering what that means, today, as I think about ways in which I might usher in hope and peace to people who are hurting in tangible ways that extend far beyond sterilized offenses that only affect values that should be changed, anyway.