It is a strange time. It seems we are inundated with news of tragedies and horrors – every week, every day. It seems we are convinced that times are worse than ever. Danger is ever lurking, fear is a staple. Maybe the danger is real, maybe not. But as I consider a number of events that have occurred in the past month or so, I am struck by the responses. Filled with both joy and concern.
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
It is the season of Advent, and in my tradition that means we are waiting and preparing for the arrival of the birth of Christ. For me, the example of Jesus represents the ideal of a gospel of peace. Not the gospel in the sense of some infallible religious doctrine or practice that can only be observed by the few, but a gospel in the sense of a truth that is of utmost importance. Peace is worth preparing for. Peace is about stepping away from the conflicts between us and finding ways to coexist in tranquillity and respect. Peace is desired by most of us, probably all of us. Even for those who appear to want something else, one has to consider why they are so filled with pain that they would choose hate as an alternative to whatever they have experienced.
When Charles Wesley wrote these words in 1877, he originally did so as a response to what he saw as an inexcusable situation for orphans in England at the time. The story goes that he was disturbed by the class divisions in society and, among other things, the resulting neglect of so many children. If I read the words of the second verse with this in mind, they take on a whole new meaning. These children needed to be rescued. They needed to be raised up to a place of safety. They needed to be considered just as valuable as the baby we await was; a child that came with the promise of peace.
Born Thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King;
born to reign in us forever,
now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
rule in all our hearts alone.
By Thine all sufficient merit
raise us to Thy glorious throne.
As I reflect on the usual themes associated with Advent – hope, love, joy and peace – I am conscious that they prepare us for more than a sentimental, if deeply meaningful, ritual. And I know they also have meaning for those who do not celebrate Christmas in a religious sense or find their spiritual guidance elsewhere. In a world where insecurity and fear seem to dominate our understanding of each other, a gospel of peace is dearly needed. And promoting hope, love and joy can’t hurt in achieving it. Again I say, dona nobis pacem.