As Advent gives way to Christmas, we hear the angelic song, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men…” (Luke 2:14) announced at the birth of Jesus. However, twenty centuries later any honest person must ask where is this peace? We see what Jesus foretold in the Olivet Discourse regarding the tensions between the present age and the age to come; namely, that there would be “wars and rumors of war…” (Matthew 21:6). The best I can make of it is we live in “the time between” as Fleming Rutledge says in her masterful book, Advent – The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ. This between time is, even as we celebrate the mysterious glory of Christmas, a time of incredible tension where the curtain has been pulled back on the hidden things lingering since the creation of the world (Matthew 13:35). Rene Girard in his book, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, speaks powerfully to the reality of the between time (even when he doesn’t refer to it directly) where the cycles of scandal, contagion, and ultimately violence are exposed and repudiated as Jesus opens up another path – the path of peace that comes from imitating and following after him.
The great scandals of our age are boiling over into cultural contagion which can only lead to violence. We can think of the immigration crises in Europe and the United States which are dividing the populace. We see the tensions between globalism and nationalism manifest themselves in trade wars (which generally end up in shooting wars). We see factions in the United States coalescing around President Trump; those who vociferously support him, and those who with equal vehemence oppose him. We have wars over defining gender and wars between gender. We live in a time of contagion where factions form and trenches are dug, almost imperceptibly and peace seems like a far off wish. It doesn’t take probing insight to see that we are in a bad way, and the paths we are so thoughtlessly treading portends disaster as we are in what Hobbes describes, “a war of all against all.” I can only speak for myself as I look into the future as I reflect on our present trajectories – we are sowing the seeds of unimaginable violence.
As I said before, Christmas brings to us the boundless mystery of the incarnation, where God has united himself to humanity in his Son who is wholly human and wholly Divine. What I will focus on here, however, is that he is the One who has come to open up a new path to humanity, even as he brings a sword that cuts to the heart of our violence and thralldom to the machinations of Satan. In a world that says hate your enemy, the One who has come to and for us says love your enemy. He tells us not to resist violence, but to accept it. He urges us to a radical forgiveness that keeps no record of wrongs. In so doing he shows himself to be the Way, and the only hope that will lift us out of the cycle of scandal, contagion and violence. There is an answer that does lead to peace that lies at the very heart of the gospel – the one who came to save us from ourselves and the carnage of sin has opened up to us a new way. But, who can accept this?
It is all to easy to point my own finger at the world outside and describe its discontents and destructive violence. But, when the Way of Jesus is laid before me, I all to often shrink back into my resentments and wounds in my quest for justice, oblivious to the fact that these are one more drop in the ocean of human rage. I have come to understand that the Way of Jesus is a path that is paved with confession, where I lay down my own sins in repentance and cast myself on the mercy of the one who can carry my feet down the path he has laid before me. This is the only way to peace, and for now it comes in the between time where nations rage and wars foment in the living room, the classroom, the boardroom, the market, and the halls of power. Most of us are not influential people, but I believe one act of love, from a heart warmed by Love is more powerful than a thousand acts of hate. Even if in the end, this love doesn’t appear to win, its subversive power ascends in its ability to take a loss and love still.
It is so hard to let people be who they are when their lives confront us with things we profoundly disagree with, or even despise. But, in an age of contagion, the mystery of Christmas clings to a peace, that for now patiently endures loss and does not surrender the courage to love. There are times to make a stand for truth, however more often than not our truth-crusades belie a will to power and an inner violence that manifests itself in the quest to master and ultimately dominate the other. Jesus says, “judge not lest ye be judged” not because the truth cannot be discerned or will not finally win out when God comes in righteous judgement, but because especially when we think we are right we are most apt to judge poorly. There might not be an answer that ends the contagions of our day or that can stay the violence that it portends. But the Way of the One who has come to us allows us to say no to all of this and pursue a path that embodies the peace of his Kingdom in a world torn by wars and rumors of war. Our Christmas hope is in the Christ who blazes a trail into uncharted territory and calls us to follow him. There is no other way.