On December 2nd, our TV’s and social media feeds were flooded with the news of the shooting in San Bernardino. A day in which two people chose violence over peace. The week before, a man killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic. It was just another day in which somebody chose violence over peace. A religious leader stood up and declared that people should arm and prepare themselves for violence.
People regularly choose violence over peace.
It seems to be the way the world works. Violence is normal, expected and sometimes deemed rational.
Last Sunday was the Second Sunday of Advent. For many, the candle that was lit symbolized Peace. As this candle was lit, many read the words of Zechariah prophesying over his son John.
“Bless the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has delivered his people. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house, just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago. He has brought salvation from our enemies and from the power of all those who hate us. He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and remembered his holy covenant, the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham. He has granted that we would be rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes, for as long as we live. You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way. You will tell his people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins. Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.
Luke 1:69-78 (CEB)
The Jews in Zechariah’s time were well acquainted with violence as well. Rome was well-practiced in exercising peace through violence. The much promoted Pax Romana was maintained by Roman authorities quashing any hint of an uprising or disturbance. As the Roman occupation of Judea wore on and the Jews grew increasingly unsettled by their presence, more and more Legions showed up the help keep the peace. Crucifixions were regular and the threat of violence generally kept things from boiling over. For the Jews, Rome was the enemy. Many devout Jews hated the Romans, their occupation and their polytheistic, emperor worshiping ways. The Jews dreamed for a day that, like Zechariah says, “we would be rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes, for as long as we live.” Many hoped for a Messiah that would come, like King David, and slay the Goliath of Rome. The Messiah would raise up a holy army, cleanse Jerusalem and Israel of the unclean, Gentile Romans in order to restore and sanctify right worship of God at the Temple and in the land.
The Messiah would battle unjust, pagan violence with justified holy violence.
It’s the same story repeated again and again. Violence for violence so that some pale shadow of peace might come.
The problem is, when violence is the norm we are in danger of missing the true peace and salvation that God sends through Jesus. We look for salvation, rescue and redemption to come through violent and dramatic means. We have, for the most of human history, believed that violence is the means for peace. So, when an alternative shows up and tries to direct us down a different path for peace we are often unable to recognize it. Or, the worst of cases, we will flat-out deny the path revealed to us.
“Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.”
The “path of peace” revealed in Jesus is not through dramatic strength or violence against the oppressors. It lead’s people away from darkness and the shadow of death. The “path of peace” is shown in a scandalous birth witnessed initially only by animals. Then, those who testified to this birth were typically untrustworthy shepherds and pagan astrologers from the East. This is the signpost of God’s path for peace and many missed in then, and I think we continue to miss it now. Spending too much time looking for our own vision of peace we miss out, “on this day what would bring you peace” (Luke 19:42, NIV) and continue our march towards darkness and the overwhelming shadow of death.
We light candles during Advent, not floodlights. We have to take care that we do not miss the faint light of peace that flickers when the flashing of bombs and smoking of guns dance across our screens and in our minds.