On Sunday, we lit the candle of peace … What is “peace” to you?
As the Roman soldiers led Jesus to his crucifixion, he became too weary to carry his cross, so “they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross” (Matthew 27:32). The way the story reads, Simon of Cyrene was inconsequential, a mere bystander, a wrong-place-wrong-time casualty. I imagine that he was simply going about his business as usual – doing the day’s tasks, thinking of things that interest him, and talking to friends – when he stopped to see what all the commotion was about. And that, of course, is how he got dragged into the mess.
If he was anything like most of us, I would guess that Simon’s idea of “peace” had to do with preserving a certain quality of life, as much as it was up to him to do so. We have notions of peace for people and places beyond our immediate community, sure, but these are often little more than passing wishes for an ideal that seems out of reach, or at least out of our reach. Best to just focus on what is at hand.
What is “at hand” is precisely the issue. God is among us, burning in bushes, walking along the road to Emmaus, blowing like the wind. This is at the heart of Jesus’ message: “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). Advent is an invitation to remember this proclamation, to turn aside, to open our eyes, and be filled.
It’s easy to let Advent pass us by. We are distracted by so many other concerns: presents, year-end work, family, parties … business as usual. But when we risk a look, out from the commotion comes this question: “What do we long for now?”
The general tone of Advent is one of excitement, the giddy anticipation of a child for Christmas morning. But that calls into question our present longing, or lack of it. Do we long for peace? Is our notion of peace really something else altogether? What do we long for now?
I tried to escape this question, but somehow I got talked into carrying these words around. And now they have become a heavy load. The things I had to do, the longings I had, the burdens I was already carrying, all of it now subject to this cross, all of it now inconsequential in comparison to the coming of our Lord.
My day-to-day definition of peace – “as much happiness and as little pain as possible” – is crumbling under the weight of these words. The ages of longing in God’s people, the groaning of creation, the intercession of the Holy Spirit, the collective anticipation of the heavenly host— all of it is mounting up in theses words, compelling me to leave the crowd of onlookers and join the company of those who carry the cross. The ones who have turned aside and been dragged into this mess. The heavy-hearted and expectant ones, whose song has become the chorus of advent: “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”