This second candle lit in Advent is often called the Peace candle, echoing the prophet Isaiah who said that the coming king would be called the Prince of Peace.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Every year I am struck by how easily this characteristic of the coming Messiah is overlooked. The one who came at the first Christmas, the one who comes now, and the one who is to come is the bringer of peace, will break the bow and make wars cease. But the “both/and” nature of Christmas, the looking back, the looking forward, and the presence of Jesus right now, declares to us that Christ’s peace-bringing reign has already begun even as we await its consummation.
It’s somewhat ironic that the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the feast of the Immaculate Conception nearly coincide (Pearl Harbor Dec. 7th, Immaculate Conception is on the 8th). Pearl Harbor initiated the U.S. involvement in one of the many horrors of the 20th century, WWII, culminating in perhaps the darkest day in the history of human technological “advancement”: the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. December 7th is a day of mourning, similar to September 11th, not because (as some have said of the victims of 9/11) the people who died were martyrs, but because war is always something to be mourned. Like September 11th, a tragic day cued further violence. We are faced with the cold truth: we are utterly incapable of loving our enemies. The victims of the attacks were victims of the ultimate in human opposition to God’s design for humanity; instead of the flourishing of all life, the destruction of life. As we mourn the tragedy of one attack, let us mourn the countless attacks that the U.S. has engaged in, and remember the many countries of the world who have far too many anniversaries like Pearl Harbor. Let us pray and act daily that we may beat our swords (not their swords) into plowshares; instruments of death turned into tools for helping us live into God’s vision fully.
Contrast this with the subversive and underground mystery that comes in the Immaculate Conception, or ‘La Purísima’ in some Central American countries, where peace to the world that will be born through an insignificant, small town teenager. Skepticism of Mary’s oft near-deification aside, the Immaculate Conception reveals to us how God chooses to bring peace to the world: not through force or coercion, which is the only way of peace the governments know, but through an infant, a helpless baby.
Isaiah 2 (the passage that culminates with “swords into plowshares”) looks forward to a day of judgment, when evil will be named and dealt with, in the same way Matthew’s gospel depicts the separation of the sheep and goats. The story of the Immaculate Conception is an embodiment of these visions: God has found favor with Mary and through her now the peace-bringing Savior comes. Only when God has dealt with the evil of the world can the visions of New Creation/Shalom be brought forth. There can be no restoration without judgment.
This is paralleled in Mary’s story. When the angel announces to Mary that she will bear the Christ, Mary is told that she has found favor in God’s eyes, and having found favor with (judged) her, God can initiate the restoration of creation through the birth of Jesus. There are many implications of the importance of the Virgin birth, but perhaps this image of purity also calls us to remember the purity of God’s original creation and the vision of the life to come. The absence of evil in Mary is a foreshadowing of the birth of God’s dream.
Let us pray for God to guide our feet in the path of peace, mourning the horrors of the past and present while re-membering our belonging to the body of Christ whose hands are outstretched to his enemies even as he is nailed to the cross.
Here are a couple of opportunities to participate in the peace bringing nature of this time of year:
December 16th at the White House will be a non-violent action to protest the ongoing wars, led by some veterans including Ray McGovern, a former high-up in the CIA whose feet have been guided on the path of peace. Ray is a regular teacher at the Church of the Saviour’s Servant Leadership School.
Last week of December: Feast of the Holy Innocents retreat with the Dorothy Day CW and Jonah House. Contact them for more info: 202.882.9649 or 202.829.7625