To speak in favor of peace always is to find a dissenting voice. There are in our generation peace protests and war rallies. World-wide more encourage war than protest for peace. Things have not changed much.
Even casual observers of history–all of human history–will note that peace protestors always stand in a minority against those who rally the majority for war.
Take care not to confuse the issues of peace and war. They are not opposites. War is not at its core the pursuit of conflict while peace is the desire to end conflict. Peace and war are not opposites of that sort.
What distinguishes the pursuit of war and the pursuit of peace is more likely the issue of a foundation. Those who rally the majority for war are confident in the power of the many to overpower the few. Those who protest for peace are confident that they might empower the few with a hope of transforming the goals of the many. Both those striving for peace and war are, well, striving.
On the second Sunday of Advent we are reminded that as followers of the Prince of Peace we are called to find a dissenting voice in a warring world. We are called to protest any and every attempt to overpower the few. We are called to raise our voices in hopes that our dissent might transform the very foundations upon which our world rests. We are called to strive for peace.
The anonymous prophet of the post-exilic period we call Malachi (the word simply means “my messenger”) stood against the majority of his day and pleaded for a transformation of the institution of the Temple in Jerusalem. The prophet proclaimed his confidence that the coming one “will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness” (3.3).
These are hard words for the contemporary church. “The descendants of Levi” are the equivalent of the ministers and priests and leaders of the congregation. Will they find the dissenter’s voice and proclaim peace on the second Sunday of Advent? Will they glimpse and act upon the impertinence of Peace?
On the second Sunday of Advent we hear the Song of Zechariah instead of a traditional psalm. Old Zechariah’s song is at least a protest song. After nearly a year of silence Zechariah finds his dissenter’s voice on the day of his first-born son’s circumcision, and agrees with old Elizabeth, she who had told the crowd that the son born of her old age would be named John (Luke 1.59-66). Speaking both with the audacity of hope and the impertinence of peace old Zechariah proclaims, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace” (Luke 1.78-79).
From a prison somewhere in the ancient Roman world we hear a third voice of dissent on the second Sunday in Advent. Even a casual reader will hear an echo of the prophet Malachi in the words of Paul to the Philippians: “This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ . . .” (1.9-11). It is a voice of dissent because the Apostle refuses to accept his bondage as a restriction of the power–the empowerment–of the gospel.
On the second Sunday in Advent the Baptist always shows up! He is the icon of the impertinence of peace. His appearance, his demeanor, and his message are anything but irenic, according to conventional standards. Rather than soothing the frayed nerves of the faithful he ruffles their feathers: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3.5-6).
Peace is not about maintaining the status quo. Peace is about striving to be empowered and transformed by the presence of God in our midst. To speak in favor of peace always is to find a dissenting voice, a voice that articulates what could be–what should be–for followers of Jesus.
Light the Candle of Peace on the second Sunday in Advent. Risk the impertinence of peace.
It is the prophets, the psalms, the epistles and the gospel.
Richard F. Wilson is Columbus Roberts Professor of Theology and Chair of the Roberts Department of Christianity at Mercer University in Macon, Ga.
Columbus Roberts professor of theology and chair of the Columbus Roberts Department of Religion in the college of liberal arts at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.