The following Advent peace post is by Taylor Johnson, minister of music and worship at Trinity Baptist Church in Madison, Ala.
“Someone once asked me why we have candles for each week of Advent. It’s so that, even on days like today, there is a light shining for peace.”
That was my Facebook status roughly a year ago.
The day it refers to was December 14, the day more than 20 people, mostly children, were gunned down at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. A few days before, my church lit a candle to celebrate the 2nd Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Peace.
How could something so horrific happen in a week devoted to peace? These two events stood in sharp contrast to each other; the light of peace represented by that candle apparently wasn’t quite bright enough to reach into the shadows where children’s lives were cut short and communities were torn apart. So why even bother lighting them?
We light them so that, even when days like that dark one come, there will still be a light shining for peace. It is this liturgical practice of the church that kept my own light of peace from being extinguished that day.
Advent is the beginning of our church year, a season of preparation and expectant waiting for the coming of Christ. To prepare, we immerse ourselves in the themes of hope, peace, joy and love for we know that when Christ comes, he will inaugurate a new way of life lived in hope, peace, joy and love.
The kingdom of God comes with the baby born in Bethlehem, and will one day come to completion when Christ returns. We long for this coming, both the first coming of the Word made incarnate, and the second coming when all will be made whole. In this in between, this time of the already but not yet kingdom of God, our calling is to be agents of God’s kingdom here on this earth.
To do this, we must first understand what that kingdom looks like.
In Advent, we are reminded every year that it is known through hope and peace and joy and love. To be faithful to our calling, we too must be people of hope and peace and joy and love. Every new year we discover this anew as we prepare and yearn for the coming of Jesus the Christ.
The beauty of Advent is that it is always we get to experience in a new way every year by doing the same things every year. We sing Advent hymns, light Advent candles, read Advent scriptures, these things are the same. What makes them new each year is the fact that we are never the same person twice.
Every year that passes between Advents brings a new set of experiences. We have new triumphs and failures, new joys and sorrows, and each one changes us. It is that new person who rediscovers what it means to be people of God’s kingdom each time they celebrate Advent. The sorrow of lost loved ones and the joy of new babies help us to better understand what it is to be people of joy.
The ending of relationships and the beginning of new ones help us to better understand love. The opening and closing of doors and opportunities in our lives help us to better understand hope. And events like Sandy Hook help us to better understand what it means to be people of peace. We see where we have fallen so very short in striving for peace.
We see where we fall short, but also we see where that work is needed now more than ever. We see that we must work for peace with those who have lost their loved ones, their children in an act of sudden and senseless violence. We must work for peace with the family of the ones who commit these tragedies that they may know that they are not alone.
We must work with each other to make this world a place where these events do not happen.
In the year that has passed, gun control has become a heated issue, even more heated than it was before. Many saw the Sandy Hook shooting as irrefutable proof that we must get rid of all our guns. Some saw it as irrefutable proof that we must do better enforcing the gun laws we already have. Some saw it as irrefutable proof that we need more guns available for the average citizen, because if the teachers had been armed, then just maybe this could have been avoided.Multiple sides, all saying their view is irrefutable and right and just.
What the right answer is, I don’t know.
I do know that as people of peace, we are called to be peaceful with each other and to not launch heated and hateful words at each other.
As I celebrate this Advent with my church, we will once again light a candle for peace. Now and forevermore I will see that light through the lens of Sandy Hook and I know that we still have a long way to go for peace. In that candle, though, I also see a promise. I see a promise made in fire and light to be an agent of God’s peace in the world around me. Wherever I go, whatever I do, I will carry that light with me and I will shine it into the darkest places I can find that all may know peace.
I hope that this is true of all of us.
We are an Advent people, a people longing and waiting and preparing ourselves and this world for the coming of Christ, the one who is called the Prince of Peace. Amen.