Second Sunday of Advent
I’d bet that many of you, like me, keep a to-do list or three to prepare for the Christmas season. It’s busy, with priority to any of the following in a given week: light stringing, card sending, cookie baking, tree decorating, gift shopping/wrapping/exchanging, party hosting, open house attending, feasting with friends/family/colleagues. There might even be a few extra church services on the calendar and a parade or two.
In the second week of our liturgical season of preparation (Advent), Luke gives us opportunity to consider who we prepare for and the implications for Christians located in a consumer capitalist, xenophobic, racist, increasingly oligarchic 21st-century nation-state that glorifies violence (have you sung the National Anthem lately?).
Zechariah, priest and prophet, proclaims that his son, John, is Jesus’ opening act. He’ll “go before the Lord to prepare his ways,” i.e. forgiveness, mercy, light, and peace. (1:76-79)
Peace. It’s a welcome word for a world rife with violence, fear, oppression, terror. The global catalogue of injustice and brutality is lamentable and long and lengthening. You no doubt can add to it examples from your own community, household, or congregation.
Peace. Eiréné in Greek, it echoes Hebrew’s shalom, and it’s not just about your innards. It indicates a wholeness: that all essential parts are present, tied together and working in concert. It connotes individual and communal welfare, plus freedom from fear or harm. Eiréné is indicative of relational health both between God and humans and among us humans, notions that its frequent recurrence in Luke elucidates.
• Individuals are told to go in peace after they’re forgiven sins and made right with God (7:50) or physically healed and clean (8:48), ostensibly able to resume their place in community life.
• Households are greeted with peace by the seventy sent out (10:5-6).
• Jesus weeps over the political entity of Jerusalem because it, like almost every other nation or city-state (prove me wrong), does not know “the things that make for peace” (19:41).
Back to our story: Zechariah’s canticle concludes with the word peace. It’s the last word spoken by a human in Luke’s orderly account before Jesus’ birth. Further, heaven and earth are of thematic accord. The angels heralding Christ’s birth one chapter later say to the shepherds that this peace is for those on earth in whom God delights, i.e. everyone. It’s a universal proclamation made wholly real by the incarnate Christ who offers forgiveness, healing (making peaceful) humanity’s relationship with God.
It is also a reality that Christians are called to embody in our relationship with everyone, regardless of how our efforts at peacefulness are received. In the eschatological now/not yet of Advent, we don’t wait for peace to arrive from on high. We prepare the way of the Lord with John by doing as Zechariah in the vein of Isaiah suggests: allowing Christ “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (1:79).
It is with some urgency that we undertake this project. The Greek verb translated as “to guide,” is intensified by a preposition that indicates we are to take the most efficient route without delay once our direction is determined.
So, in reviewing your Advent to-do list, which of your preparations in the next weeks foster peace, wholeness, and justice in your family, congregation, community?
I’ve listed three examples below in hopes of priming your heart to listen for God’s nudge, so your feet can follow suit.
First and not to be underestimated: hosting family around one table for Christmas dinner very well could be your effort in Advent peacemaking. If you’ve got it easier on this front, it might be time to check your invitation list.
What can you do to ensure that other people’s needs are met so that they, too, can sit adequately clothed with good company at a table with enough food and love for all present?
Second: December 6 is the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas, whose story has been warped and secularized into the jolly, bearded guy who binges on cookies and gives kids what they want as long as they haven’t been too bad and the deals are good on Black Friday. In stark contrast, St. Nicholas of 4th century Greece is known as a protector of children and is said to have given his own inheritance to a family with three daughters that lost their money. They couldn’t afford to feed their children and didn’t have dowry to make them marriage eligible, so the family’s only alternative was to sell them into the violence and trauma of prostitution.
How might your gift giving this year facilitate justice, even subject as we are to unjust systems, misogynistic and otherwise?
Third: Mitzvah Day is a justice-oriented tradition that many Jews, increasingly in partnership with Muslims, take part in across the country. It’s a whole-community effort – often held on Christmas – to participate in peacemaking by offering acts of kindness and service that address community need.
Is your celebration of the season distinguishable from that of the culture in which we’re situated? If not and even if so, what new peace-making path might God be pointing your feet down?