Peace is another central theme to the advent season, and I have grown to be painfully aware of the political aspects of peace, both today and in the times of Jesus. The world’s peace is so often maintained through force and power. Peace through subjugation; peace through fear. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, came to proclaim another sort of peace: a peace brought about by the complete absence of conflict and not by the threat of violence. I still believe this is a pertinent and needed message of the advent season, but this year I am much more aware of another aspect of the peace we long for during this time.
I think what we fail to realize when we focus so much on the political aspects of the peace that Christ offers is that political unrest manifests itself throughout the entirety of life. If one is part of an oppressed people, one has no rest. In constant anxiety, the threat to the self is overwhelming, and hope seems far off. I can only imagine the long, sleepless nights spent fearing that the enemy may be on its way. The more threatening the opponent, the more uncertain the future is that lay ahead. As a matter of fact that is one of the things that unrest, lack of peace, robs us of: a future. Uncertainty surrounds to where planning for anything beyond the next moment seems irresponsible, if not flat out impossible. Very few of us know the gut wrenching uncertainty that comes with political unrest.
Many of us, however, do know the feeling of spiritual and emotional unrest. We feel as if the world is spinning out of control, as if everything we know is falling apart. The threat to self may be abstract, but the heightened anxieties are just as profound. The sleepless nights and uncertain future are no less unsettling just because the threat is less visible.
Perhaps that is why the litany we read this past Sunday struck me so deeply. It proclaimed that the peace candle tells of a peace that no war can halt, that no heartache can sever, or that no suffering can erase.
My heartache is so sharp right now that I have trouble imagining such a peace. My suffering seems so all-encompassing that it could easily erase anything else in view. My pain is so real that all I long for is peace, even if it seems so far away. For so long we had planned for our son; we decorated a nursery, we bought special furniture, we even sought out a local artisan to make a rocking chair in a place where rocking chairs don’t exist. We spoke of getting a handle on student debt so that we could start a college fund. We planned on coming home one year from now so that he could celebrate his first birthday with family he’d never met. Our entire foreseeable future was wrapped up in our precious little boy.
That future has been robbed from us, and the spiritual and emotional unrest that has caused has made us long for a peace that seems elusive right now. In our darkest moments of grief, one of the only prayers I can repeat over and over is, “God, give her peace. God, give me peace. God, give us peace.” We need to know that there is tranquility to be found, but most importantly we need to know that there is a future. We need to know that, even though our hopes and dreams have been thrown down and trampled upon, there is the hope of a future. Knowing that, perhaps, can offer some measure of peace.
This past Sunday we also sang the familiar carol, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” I’ve heard this hymn a million times, but never before had I experienced the third verse:
“O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way,
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.”
Christ is coming, and not only is hope on the way, but peace from our hardships is on the way as well: a peace that promises a future. Even so, the promise may not be immediate removal from these difficult circumstances, but simply rest along the way to hear the song of the promise of peace.