When, like this week, a nation goes to war the emotions of its people are released – anger, fear, resilience, resignation, defiance – we witness a gambit of feelings breaking out along with a myriad of voices to accompany them. What will be the outcome? Doesn’t violence beget violence? Are the actions just? These are just some of the questions that rise from such actions – and that’s only in my head. Yet out of it all I am sure the majority of us are simply asking: How do we find peace in our time? How do we secure a future for our children that will allow them to flourish? How do we build a world that engenders equality for all?
But is peace in our time simply an illusion – a chasing after the wind. I mean, are we promised it? Is this what the Bible teaches? When the Prince of Peace is born in a stable in a town called Bethlehem, the great liberator and his mission of liberation began. Here the Saviour of humanity would be born to vulnerability whilst its people lived under the dominant rule of the global empire of the Romans. And then some thirty years later when his disciples called for him to take the seat of power and exercise rule as an act of defiance, he would instead take up a cross and die as an act of love. What does this teach me as to how I should act in the world?
As we enter Advent we need to remember that its message is principally one of hope since it is here in Bethlehem’s stable that the greatest liberation is secured, not through a Kalashnikov but a cradle; not through laser guided missiles but, as the story of the life of Jesus unfolds, an old rugged cross. And peace is secured there - for us all. Not peace in the absence of conflict but rather in the face of it. The disciples pleaded that he would rise up as a political leader that their Messiah would lead them to victory over their common enemy but Jesus had a different mission in mind – to liberate the human heart.
Embedded into the Christmas story is the revelation that as we connect with its message, as we internalise its truth, we are changed. And when we are changed, it matters less that our circumstances are changed. When the human heart is liberated it can no longer be held captive to fear or oppression. Terror cannot control its emotions nor determine its steps. Liberation of the heart is what Advent announces – and it leads us to the pathway of love. Not some sentimental simplistic notion that causes nausea or naivety but rather a gritty and principled walk that says love will triumph over evil and I will play my part in that triumph.
Advent is a proclamation. What followed was a journey, one that would take those infant feet on a mission of transforming love – a mission that he started and to which we are invited live out in our life – and in our time and never has that been more important than today.