In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!
- Isaiah 2:3-4
I have a distinct memory of my mother playing me this song on her ukelele: "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream" by Simon & Garfunkel. On this and many other occasions, her example gave me hope for peace in the world, and I committed myself to helping people understand one another.
Do I believe that we, of our own human effort, can bring about world peace? No. I think I used to, but I don't now. Is this a descent into cynicism, or even a hardened realism? No.
I read an article once that described Dick Cheney's worldview: that human beings simply must wage war on each other, so it's best to maintain your dominance at all costs or risk being eliminated. Now, that is the kind of cynicism that leads to self-perpetuating, never-ending violence. Dick Cheney's view is anti-Christian.
My view is different, and it is inspired by the words and actions of Jesus. "Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends." If we do not remain at least somewhat vulnerable, leave open some risk of being destroyed, we can never really understand love.
This isn't doe-eyed pacifism, either. It's one thing to defend your family from danger. It is quite another to build up safeguards all around you, believing that your lifestyle and wealth will protect you from all potential pain and loss. Pain and loss are inevitable. They are a part of the joy of life, and they are what make love possible.
Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is among you." Today, I will choose to live in the Kingdom the Prophet Isaiah described. I will lay down my weapons and do something more useful than protecting myself ... like feeding people, for instance.
This Advent, consider making a donation to a local food bank or public service provider. The need is greater now than ever before. And on a personal level, invite a friend to dinner -- maybe someone you've been concerned about lately. Share your life with that person as well as your food.
Today is also World AIDS day. Consider making a donation to help eliminate AIDS. When we cure people and heal people, we also help bring about peace.
Jesus gives a different kind of peace than the world gives: not the absence or denial of conflict, but the transformation of it. Allow this Advent season to transform you.