By Shawn Duncan, Community Chaplain with EIRO
“I’m so tired of waiting,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?”
The root word for “peace” in Greek is the verb eiro, which means “to join.” When I think about this, it helps me to visualize peace as more than the calm stillness of lake in the early morning hours. I instead envision all the broken, torn apart pieces of our lives and communities being “joined” back together and made whole again. Peace.
Peace is a word often seen and heard during Advent - on quaint home decor, in lights on someone’s roof, frequently in texts from the lectionary, in songs that play (over and over) on the radio, etc. And rightfully so. Peace is a fitting word to mediate on when we consider the act of God putting on human flesh and taking up residence among us.
This year, more than in years past, I am aching for peace.
However, the peace that I am seeking this holiday season is not the kind of peace Jesus came to bring.
The kind of peace I want is peace and quiet. I want the peace of escapism. I want to turn off the news, silence social media, and plug my ears to the demands of injustice, poverty, division, racism, and turmoil that constantly fills the air.
Here is what the peace I want looks like: early (read: before children wake up) morning coffee in front of my Christmas tree, food and lots of it, football games, a movie with my family, food and lots of it, presents I actually like, food and lots of it, etc.
The peace I am aching for is the kind where I get to disengage from the clamor of a broken society and enjoy the comfort of my privileged lifestyle. I am not an immigrant fighting to keep my family fed, desperate for a way to live fully and freely in this country. I am not an African-American male experiencing another piece of evidence that my life is less valuable than others. I want to forget that my sisters and brothers are facing these things and delight in the Christmasy peace that comes from privilege. I want a safe-for-the-whole-family Christmas.
But peace, in the biblical sense, is a word deeply rooted in the mess of life. It is a word that is honest about pain, division, racism, intolerance, injustice. Peace is a call out of my hiding and a demand to confront that which is not peace. Unfortunately, the peace of Advent does not offer me the spiritual spa day I want to enjoy.
Within days of each other, I saw President Obama take executive action on immigration reform and the grand jury release their decision on Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. I watched as Christians took up both sides of each matter arguing against each other. I also watched as Christians sat silently by and said nothing.
I watched Christians celebrate the President’s actions and Christians speak against them as unconstitutional. I watched as Christians morned, protested, and spoke out against the decision not to indict Wilson. I watched as Christians defended Wilson and criticized as foolish the protests in Ferguson.
When I see all of this, I ache for peace. And I’d like to believe that the peace for which I hunger is biblical peace. But I confess to you that I just want to escape and ignore it all. And, in my privilege, I can do that if I so choose.
God came in the flesh into a world of intense political tension - foreign armies occupied their land and Jewish factions - from Essenes to Pharisees to Zealots to Herodians - raged against one another about how to solve their problems and who was to blame. Like a home filled with flammable gas, Jesus entered a world where one spark could set the whole thing on fire.
And yet he did not in his privilege choose to escape; he entered in. He spoke and acted against the powers of oppression and injustice - whether in the government, military, streets or temple. He embodied reconciliation, he feasted with the marginalized, he gathered around the sick, he brought bread to the hungry, he mended the wounds of oppressed souls.
He sought peace even as the authorities called him heretical, unpatriotic, sinful, and mad. He subverted the powers that benefitted from keeping things shattered. He sought to join together all that was torn apart so that they could be made whole again.
Jesus brought peace. I just want peace and quiet. So, I pray...
O Prince of Peace, stir in my feeble will greater courage to speak, to act, to be peace. Ignite in my cold heart a fire for justice. Rouse me from my escapism and slumber to enter in, to walk among, to encounter your world with your love for your purpose. O Prince of Peace, free me from my fear, my privilege, and my comfort that I, like you, may enter in and seek peace.
“Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.”
~O Holy Night