In Advent, on our journey to Christmas, many churches around the world focus on themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. Last week we reflected on hope - how it means that we don't hope against hope or hope without hope, but that it means actually expecting God to work in our lives, it means that we expect to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch God in our ordinary lives, through people, experiences, and even in our challenges. That's a long sentence, but that's what we were asked to reflect on and hope for.
This week, we focused on peace. Whenever we think of peace, we often, automatically, think of its opposite - conflict, violence and war or the threat of these things. Sometimes it's hard to think of peace when in some places peace is so thin, so translucent, or it just doesn't seem to exist.
Is there peace in our own lives? Is there peace in our families, in our friendships, in our workplaces, and in our church? Sadly, not always. This holiday season can be very difficult and even terrible for some because they've lost loved ones, they're separated from their partners and families, or they're in conflict with others and they won't talk to one another. We might have peace in one part of our lives and have it lacking in other parts.
Is there peace in our world? In the US, people who left their home countries due to economic instability, violence, and wars that the US and other foreign powers helped to create, people who have lived, worked, and paid their taxes for decades, these people are now being sent back to these unsafe and violent places and families are being torn apart. In the US, we also heard the news that the President officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will be moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This city that Jews, Christians, and Muslims revere as holy, and whose ownership has always been contested has now been recognized by the US as Israel's. With Palestine already occupied and more land taken away each year, this announcement doesn't make for peace and can actually incite more hostility and more violence.
In Libya we hear of a slave trade, migrants from different parts of Africa making their way to Europe for opportunities and safety, but getting stuck in Libya, and then exploited and sold into slavery for under the cost of a smart phone. In Syria some civilians that have been displaced for months and years have started to return to their communities and homes, only to be terrorized by unseen landmines and other devices. In Myanmar, the Rohingyas have been persecuted, raped, tortured, and forced to flee to neighbouring countries. Hundreds of thousands of them have made dangerous journeys by foot and on boats, only to be turned away or sent to camps without basic necessities. In the Philippines, the war on drugs has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings of drug dealers and users, and alleged drug dealers and users. Every night there is a killing in the street.
In so many places, there is no peace.
We don't always have peace in our personal lives or in the world. But we have a taste of this peace at the Table. Jesus gave his whole life to form a new covenant between God and all people. So when we come to this Table, reflecting on the things that make for peace in our lives, the lives of people around us and in the world - things that we haven't done or haven't done enough of - we can still be assured that we are accepted and loved by God. At Jesus' invitation, all are welcome to this Table of peace. And after we leave this Table and leave the four walls of our church, let's pray and work for real peace in our lives and in God's beautiful and fragmented world.
- Pastor Awit
P.S. there is peace in the world and there can be more of it! Here are some inspiring stories of peace-making:
* Australia legalizes same sex marriage (video)
* American Christians are arrested for reading #2000verses on poverty and justice in the US Senate Office to oppose the Republican's Tax Bill (video)
* American university students "swipe out hunger" by donating unused swipes so that their classmates can have a meal (website w/video)