Give Peace a Chance?
Most Advent meditations have no need of a trigger warning, but here goes: If you’re expecting warm fuzzies, you should make a peace sign and hum a few bars of “Kumbaya.” My thoughts as I pondered today’s Advent Word did not incline me to subtitle my post “Give Peace a Chance.”
A few days ago, I read a chilling editorial in The Wall Street Journal entitled “Gaza Is Gen Z’s First Real War” (Nov. 20, 2023). There, Walter Russell Mead suggests that the “American-led world order” after World War II “permitted generations of Americans to grow up in a bubble” in which “war was passé.” He questions whether the current generation will “come to understand how fragile and important peace is and take up the task of defending it” and concludes, “If not, war won’t be something they see on cellphones and spout slogans about. It will be the force that shapes and determines their lives.”
Stephen M. Walt made a similar point in a 2016 article article entitled “The Case Against Peace“: “Prolonged periods of peace may also have a downside: They allow divisions within different societies to grow and deepen. Even worse, they may eventually drive the world back toward war.”
Too Much Peace
I realize that–on the surface, at least–this geopolitical hand-wringing has little to do with our Advent discipline of waiting and hoping for the Prince of Peace. However, despite the countless times that Jesus says “peace be with you,” he also warns in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
My thoughts today are much more attuned with that bellicose Jesus. We Baby Boomers learned from our parents–the Greatest Generation–that some things are worth fighting for. We were weaned on–and lost classmates to–the first “television war.” We crouched under our desks at school during air raid drills and learned in Sunday school that there were places in the world where it was against the law to attend church. We said the Pledge of Allegiance every day, memorized the preamble to the Constitution and believed that the rights guaranteed there were worth giving our lives to and for.
However, along with other the other comforts replete in our consumer culture, I wonder if we have come to take for granted the right–the privilege–to worship as we choose. A number of years ago when my 8-year-old live-in granddaughter asked me one Sunday in a nasal whine, “Do we have to go to church?” I simply replied, “No. We get to.” Yet last year I had to Google several parishes before I found one where I could receive Holy Eucharist on Christmas Day, which happened to be a Sunday. This year, several local parishes are wiping Advent IV right off the liturgical calendar and going straight to Christmas Eve on Sunday morning because surely people can’t be expected to attend church twice in one day!
Church attendance was on a downward trend before COVID, plummeted during the pandemic, and has not recovered. I would argue that we as professing Christians share the blame for this decline. We have devalued the right to worship by nonchalance with which we practice it. Because our bellies are full, we delude ourselves that our spiritual lives are full as well.
Not Enough Hunger
In his 1997 book A Hunger for God, John Piper admonishes us, “Our hunger for God is too small. This is true not only because our capacities to desire are atrophied—like a muscle that lifts only feathers—but also because our capacity to see the Desirable is untrained on the telescope of God’s Word.”
My fervent prayer during this Advent is that we may reawaken and acknowledge our hunger for God, as did the Psalmist:
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? (Psalm 42:1-2)
O God, you are my God; I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1).
In that acknowledgment, let us take inspiration from the words of the battle hymn with which many parishes closed their celebration of the Feast of Christ the King:
Lead on, O King Eternal,
The day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest
Thy tents shall be our home.
Through days of preparation
Thy grace has made us strong;
And now, O King Eternal,
We lift our battle song.
Only when we acknowledge the unfulfilled hunger for God that exacerbates all our hurts will we have the strength for the battle to which we have been called. But after that battle for our very souls, then what? Then, my brothers and sisters, “holiness shall whisper the sweet amen of peace.”