Thursday, December 07, 2006

Advent Peace

The songs we sing to celebrate this season carry profound messages of hope and possibility in the midst of dark nights and sometimes even darker days. One song that captured my heart last week is the familiar “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

For many of us, the words of the first verse echo easily through our minds after years and years of singing:
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious night of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heavens’ all gracious King;”
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

This verse brings to mind the stories of childhood: shepherds in the field; Mary and Joseph in the stable; a glorious display of heavenly light as angels proclaim the good tidings of heaven. These images make me feel warm and safe—like the world is all right.

But the world is not all right.

It is easy to sentimentalize the sweetness of the angelic images and forget the arresting power of the song. Verse three paints a picture much closer to home:

Yet with woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And men, at war with men, hear not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

We may sing of Christmas cheer, but our world aches of war and rumors of war.

War infects this world. Each moment on earth reveals more cruelty, more hatred, more human aggression. Nation attacks nation. One race fights another race. Fathers turn against sons and sons turn against fathers. Brothers kill brothers; lovers deceive lovers. And even the human heart divides against itself. We are at war: inside and out.

Beneath our bullets, our fists, our angry hearts, a soft refrain persists:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heavens’ all gracious King;”

During Advent, we pause to hear the steady plainchant that reminds generation after generation after generation: peace is coming. Unmoved by our constant striving, the promise of peace continues to echo and ripple into the fabric of all creation.

Advent reminds us to stop, to wait, to watch, to listen. For the Prince of Peace has come, is coming and comes even now. As we behold him, we are changed. Like the lonely shepherds, we rise up and follow. We follow the infant king to the place of peace: the cross.

Yes, even as we rejoice in the birth of a baby, we cannot ignore the death of a Savior. The path to Bethlehem ends at Calvary. The Advent wind whispers, calling us to follow the true Peacemaker into the ways of peace, into the place of cross.

Peace begins not with a treaty, not with a protest, not with gunshot, but with a cross. We embrace the place of death, laying down our rights, our needs, our glory, our importance, our name, our reputation. We lay down our lives. And in the wonder of Advent, we discover His life and His peace flowing out through us in love.

Come O Advent King. We are weary and worried. The war inside us breaks out all around us. We hurt the ones we love. We betray our friends. Our world reflects our hearts. We suffer and we cause those around us to suffer. Have mercy upon us. Lead us in the way of peace. May we sing, may we live, may we embody the angel song:

For lo! The days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the time foretold
When the whole heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace their king
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

No comments: