Christmas is less than two weeks away and I’m starting to panic. I have done zero Christmas shopping, we’ve barely gotten the Christmas decorations up and we are just now finalizing our holiday travels. I’m sure you have plenty of business going on in your life right now, so I want to take a moment and pause and invite you to just breathe. Everything will get done, and you don’t have to do it right now.
Amidst all this chaos of the holiday season, the peace of Advent sounds pretty inviting. As we continue on our journey to the birth of the Christ child, the light of the shining star is making paths for peace. Ultimately Jesus himself would be the bringer of peace, but in the time before his arrival, preparations are in order. The job of preparing the people and even us is left to the prophets. Conveying God’s message of what is to come, Isaiah describes what that peace looks like. I imagine that for the Israelites, much like us, the idea of peace was a bit distorted. They were far more familiar with oppression and occupation than peace. Though the time of being slaves in Egypt had been worked out of their mindsets during the years in the wilderness, it was still engrained in their history. By the time Isaiah is prophesying in the 7th and 8th Centuries BCE, the Israelites faced constant threats from Assyria and would soon enough face yet another calamity: the Babylonian exile and captivity that would come in the 6th century. The people would again know occupation and be taken away from the land promised to them. Peace was so far from reality that it was unfathomable.
That reality is why Isaiah speaks so directly of what peace looks like using language that seems so impossible, we might begin to understand what is possible. Descriptions of the wolf living with the lamb, a little child leading a calf and young lion living in harmony, cows and bears eating together, and toddlers playing where snakes make their nests…these ideas seem absurd. There’s no way I’d let my two-year-old play anywhere near snakes. I don’t do snakes. This imagery invokes crazy notions for us, but what about the first audience of these words?
As much as I love The Lion King—in fact, my kiddo calls all lions “Simba”—I know that lions are dangerous. I prefer to only see them from the safety of a zoo. I’m reminded again of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Susan asks Mr. Beaver about meeting Aslan. Finding it quite shocking that a lion is the leader in Narnia, she asks,
“Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
I realize we’re talking about an allegory for God here, but the image of a lion occurs several times in Scripture, just think of Daniel and the Lion’s Den. Thus, for the Israelites, the image of a lion would invoke a clear sense of danger. With no concept of a modern-day zoo, wild animals, even baby ones, wouldn’t be anywhere near young children. The absurdity for them is even stronger than it is for us.
This peace which Isaiah speaks of is so counter-cultural that it goes against the very reality of nature not just the socio-historic context. Though, in this country, we no longer face the direct threat of physical invasion by the armies of any empires, there is an ideological invasion of misinformation and nationalism which are designed to invoke fear, division, and hatred amongst us. We are exiled to disunity. Imagine our government being of one accord with peaceful proceedings…that seems far from possible right now. In our own way, peace seems impossible. In this historical moment where we face the impeachment of the President of the United States for only the third time ever, peace is even more outrageous. We might not be so different from Isaiah’s audience. We need an interruption in the course of history.
Jesus’ arrival into a complicated world is exactly that kind of interruption. Though it would not be exactly how those who were waiting for the Messiah would expect. The aforementioned seemingly impossible peace of God arrives in the most unlikely of ways. The birth of this baby is cataclysmic for unrest in our world. This intervention into the course of human history changes things forever. It may not seem like it with things not being much different today, but God arriving to be with us, one of us, makes available to us paths of peace. Now these paths may be mostly ignored and even rejected by so many in our present, yet they are open for hiking.
There is, though, one who prepares the way for Jesus calling for repentance—John the Baptist. His prophetic words have a different tone. They are harsher and more judgmental—a bit strange for preparing for Christmas. Yet his call to turn toward God resonates with our present world. We are so often consumed by what benefits us as individuals which works against the simple idea of peace. To follow God’s call found in Jesus to be makers of peace, we must be ready to follow. It starts with believing that peace is possible. If we can imagine what can be, we can decide to be part of making that vision of peace possible. In doing so, then we can look for where the shining star is guiding us; we can find those pathways of peace first hewn from the tumult of our world by the one born that we might have life.
This season of waiting and preparation is important. It creates space for us to be serious about our intentions. It gives us time to discern how we will respond to the ways God is calling each of us to hope and believe what might be possible. It allows us to look for those paths of peace made clear by the light of the star. I think of this time as an opportunity to put on some metaphorical noise canceling headphones which drown out the messages of division, the voices which proclaim that our vision is impossible, and the barrage of reminders that we have a long way to go before peace pervades. The sounds of the Advent season ring through like music in our ears, empowering us to do even the smallest acts of creating peace. We can’t sit back and expect peace to just arrive. We must carve out those pathways for others, guiding them toward the Light. I hope you will join me on that journey, for this is your Sacred Place.