In many of our churches this past Sunday, we lit the pink candle of the Advent Wreath, the candle of joy. And yet, this week, I – and I imagine most of you – have felt anything but joy. My week began with hearing the news of 4 people, all under the age of 20, shot and killed in my neighborhood of Birmingham’s West End. In Homewood, a mother and her 4 and 5 year-old children were killed in a triple murder. A gunman shot a police officer and two employees of St. Vincent’s hospital before being shot and killed himself. And on Friday, we all were shocked by the news that 20 children under the age of 10 along with 6 adults had been slaughtered at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. I have felt a range of emotions, but joy is not one of them. At times I have felt angry, like my friend David Henson, that in spite of 61 mass shootings in the last 30 years, guns are still our sacred cows. At times, I have wondered why caring for the mentally ill seems to be such a low priority that often leaves people without viable options. At times, I have felt like grieving and have hoped the church would be a place that allows people to grieve in their own way. And at times, I have felt overwhelmed; I have felt that the darkness, violence, and despair of the world may indeed have the last word. There is not much joy in this time of Advent right now.
And that’s why re-entering the Christmas story this year may be more important and more needed than ever. Jesus, too, was born in world void of joy. He was born into a world filled with hatred and violence. He was born into a world where innocents were slaughtered. And every year at Christmas, we proclaim that God’s answer to all of this – to all of the world’s hatred and violence, is the birth of a baby. We proclaim that this child is the Prince of Peace. Jesus, though, wasn’t the first person with the title, Prince of Peace. The Roman emperor had claimed that title for himself, along with other titles like King of Kings and Savior of the World – other titles that the Church used for Jesus. In calling Jesus the King of Kings, the Savior of the World, and the Prince of Peace, the Church was not only making a theological statement; it was making a political one. It was declaring that the emperor’s power and authority were not ultimate, and it was pointing out that the peace the emperor claimed to bring was in reality no peace. The emperor’s peace, the Pax Romana, was a peace that depended upon violence. It was a “peace” that depended on hundreds of thousands of military personnel securing the borders of the empire. It was a peace that depended on attacking and conquering any who were deemed a threat. It was a peace that depended on superior force. It is not unlike the peace we seek in our society today. It is the same kind of “peace” that uses drones to kill suspected terrorists and their families. It is the same kind of “peace” that is offered by stand your ground laws. It’s the same kind of “peace” that believes more guns will make us safer as we now have over 200 million guns in our country.
It is precisely this kind of “peace” that the gospel writers and the Church declared to be a sham. True peace, the peace of Christ, comes not through superior force, weapons of war, or weapons of defense; rather, true peace comes through the one who loved unconditionally, through the one who warned us that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword,” through the one who was willing to die but never to kill to bring peace to the world. I hope that Christians will stand for tougher gun control laws, and I hope that Christians will work to bring about greater care for the mentally ill. But more than anything, I pray that we will all have the faith to put down whatever weapons or thoughts of violence we may have and truly walk in the way of the one who has come to bring us peace. The hope of the world is in the Prince of Peace. May we renew our commitment to witness to that hope – for our sake and for the sake of our children.
Community Church without Walls
The Advocacy for Social Justice Blog is produced by the North Alabama Conference Advocacy for Social Justice Team to help people think about justice issues through the lens of faith. It is intended to be a place where United Methodists can listen and learn from each other with mutual respect and understanding. (For the purpose of this blog see the the post “The work of justice is the work of the church”.) Please join the conversation by adding your comment below. If you have an idea for a blog topic or would like to make a submission to the Advocacy for Social Justice Blog please contact the Team Convenor Rev. R.G. Wilson-Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.