Advent, a season of preparation and reflection, continues with a focus on peace — within the world and within ourselves. As we journey toward Christmas, we prepare for the birth of the Christ Presence and anticipate a peaceful future.
Perhaps we also notice: Sometimes, one person or event can inspire another. As Jesus’s older cousin John the Baptist did when he traveled through the Judean wilderness, proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven was near (see Matthew 3:1-12: “Preparing the Way”). He declared that another prophet would follow him, and he prepared the people by baptizing them in the River Jordan, offering physical and spiritual purification as they anticipated a new Heaven on Earth.
John, a bombastic, biblical “bad boy,” liked to challenge people and argue about how others chose to follow God’s law. He concentrated more on the law’s letter than its spirit. Mystically, John the Baptist can represent that part of us which wants to fight about what’s correct, rather than working to ensure peace. John within us is a strong intellectual, though seldom a compassionate, peaceful presence.
During Advent, as we consider peace, we can choose whether we want to be more like John or like the one who’ll be called Prince of Peace. Rather than blaming, finger-pointing and arguing with someone about who’s correct, we can choose to see the situation differently, change our behavior and transform our lives. We can remember: People change only when they’re ready and some situations are out of our control. So, we can choose whether we want to be “correct.” Or whether we want to be peaceful.
As we reflect on how the Prince of Peace will live, we may wonder how he remained steadfast and faithful in the face of harsh conflicts and challenges. We may doubt that we ever could do as he did. Though perhaps we can be inspired by a modern-day peaceful presence, Noble Peace Prize recipient and former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Mandela, who survived in prison for 27 years, from 7 November 1962 to 11 February 1990, chose to focus on what he could transform — himself first. He said:
. . . the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself. . . . Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.
As we consider peace, we can remember that Mandela cherished the ideal of a harmonious, peaceful, democratic and free society with opportunities for all people. When he was freed, he said:
As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.
And despite all he experienced, he also said:
I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.
A beautiful dream. One, I pray, we hold for our nation, too.
© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.