Peace on earth. O, how our hearts long for peace.
And yet it is almost too hard to hope for. Amidst the oppression and suffering, violence and war, hate and strife, our hearts are weary. The words of O Holy Night echo our longing. “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” Weary. Yes, we are weary. Tired. In fact, sick and tired. As U2 laments,
Heaven on earth, We need it now
I'm sick of all of this, Hanging around
Sick of sorrow, Sick of pain
Sick of hearing again and again
That there's gonna be Peace on earth
[U2, Peace on Earth]
This profound longing is what Advent is all about. It is about standing in the midst of the darkness and subversively lighting a candle. It is joining in the weary lament of the world and holding space for grief and for suffering. It is also declaring that a new dawn is coming. It is a prophetic act that lives into a reality that is not yet what it will fully be. It is a stubborn hope in the midst of overwhelming despair. The Prince of Peace has come and is bringing healing to the world.
But this peace is not a false peace. The prophet Jeremiah laments, “They offer superficial treatments for my people’s mortal wound. They give assurances of peace when there is no peace.” I think so many of us in the Western white church are guilty of saying, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace, ” [Jeremiah 6:14 KJV] and my heart is grieved.
For I am painfully aware that it is all too easy to gloss over the gaping wounds of our brothers and sisters who face oppression and violence, discrimination and injustice. It is tempting to avoid the anguish of sitting with those who are suffering and to move on quickly to the sparkling images of peace and love and brotherhood. But peacemaking is far from idyllic scenes of comfort and warmth and cheer. In fact, it is often messy, uncomfortable, and daunting.
And yet, Jesus declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” [Matthew 5:9] He called us to love our neighbor as ourselves, even to love our enemies. And he subversively broke down all the cultural and social divisions of the day that excluded others because of class, gender, religion, politics and race, declaring that we were all one in Christ.
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]
But what does Peace look like on earth? Here in my neighborhood? Here in the gritty mundane of my everyday life?I do not pretend to know God’s big dream for how peace on earth is to come to my neighborhood in its entirety, but I see some hopeful signs.
~ As we share a meal and conversation around the table with neighbors, strangers and friends every Wednesday night. I am always surprised by who walks in my door and the blessing of receiving the gift of community where all are welcome and everyone is valued. As we gather for a Holiday Neighborhood Party once again and extend the invitation far and wide, we are overjoyed as new connections are made and community is forged across difference. As we find ways to come together, to build friendships and to offer extravagant hospitality, we practice peace in our neighborhood.
~ As Lynn Newcombe, the Director of Turning Point, and sits around the table of the Shoreline Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, as Kelly Kuest leads her department of ESL into equity work at Edmonds-Woodway High School, as Erika (Em) Gonzalez Jones takes the lead on equity as a family advocate in Syre and Echo Lake Elementary schools, and as Cecelia Romero Likes and I collaborate with Suni Tolton, the Shoreline City's Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator, we are in awe of the inspiring work of passionate leaders to affect change throughout our community, from the schools to the city to local nonprofits. It is an absolute privilege to be a part of this beautiful work of peace.
~ As we take part in the Shoreline Social Justice Book Club, led by Cecelia Romero Likes, sponsored by King County Library and hosted at City Hall, we are absolutely thrilled to participate in peace making in our community. We are reading and discussing books with our neighbors written by people of color and cultivating practices of empathy and listening, learning from different perspectives and worldviews.
~ As we partner with Bethany Community Church North to serve those who are often marginalized in our community, as we offer presence and muffins and coffee on Aurora at the THS Methadone Clinic, I believe we are practicing peace as stigmas dissolve into faces and names, people with hopes and dreams just like us.
~ As we open up our doors every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to offer tutoring and mentoring to at-risk children in the Shoreline School District, we practice peace. As we build friendships and community at Turning Point across culture, race, religion, language and socioeconomic divides, we practice peace. As we share a community meal together and listen to the stories of those who are “other”, we practice peace. And it is one of the richest gifts we receive.
~ As so many in our community practice presence and otherliness every day. As teachers, students, parents, professors, artists, chaplains, mental health practitioners and business professionals; as neighbors, colleagues and friends; and as social justice advocates and community organizers, we practice peace as we listen well to the stories of those around us and offer the gift of presence.
~ As we participate in cultural listening events, share dinners with our Muslim friends, show up for community forums around houselessness, join committees for city park planning, get involved with our local neighborhood associations, practice peace-making with our children, care for the environment, do the hard work of healing in our own lives, and show up for protests advocating with those who are suffering, we are learning what it means to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are discovering what it means to participate in God's work of renewal in our own lives and in the lives of our neighbors and neighborhoods, moving away from individualism and fragmentation toward solidarity and wholeness. Being reconciled to ourselves, God, and our neighbor.
~ And this Sunday as we light the candle of peace, we will hear from Bill and Julie Clark, who make peace their central vocation in their work with Peace Catalysts, and who bring Christians and Muslims together to make peace in our communities and our world.
So this Advent, we hold the many tensions. We stand in the midst of the darkness, the great upheaval, the injustice and the suffering, and we light a candle and pray, Come, Lord Jesus, come. We practice peace in a hundred and one small ways and yet we long and groan and pray for peace to come in its fullness. We do not gloss over the divisions, the gross injustices and oppressions of our day. Rather we choose to awaken to the groaning in our communities and our neighborhoods and we groan too, allowing our hearts to break and to grieve and to repent. And yet we are not overcome with despair. No, we are people of great hope. For Christ has come. Christ is here. And Christ is coming again. And He is bringing wholeness to everything and everyone and healing all that divides us. And so we can be confident that peace is surely coming here on earth, around our dinner tables, conference calls and playgrounds, so let it begin with us.
by Jessica Ketola