This is the season in which we celebrate the coming of the rebel King of Bethlehem. The one sent in the words of his mother to “bring down rulers from their thrones and to lift up the humble.”
During Advent we read passages from the Hebrew prophets that remind us of the alternative future of peace awaiting the people of this earth. But it is a future we can speak of only in symbols, metaphors, and parables. It is a future too big for our words. It is a future too big for our imaginations. It is a future too big for our faith.
But how will we ever get there? Where is the path away from the graveyards of the past? Where is the path through the maze of the present? Where is the path that will bring us into that clearing where the light of God shines unhindered and we flourish in its radiance fulfilling that ancient word of Irenaeus who said, “the glory of God is humanity – fully alive!”
Our initial response to that question is “We do not know.” We admit that in light of our finitude, our confusion, and perhaps even our shame, we simply to do not know how to get there.
I read to you from Luke chapter 19 beginning at verse 41:
As [Jesus] came near and saw the city [of Jerusalem], he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. . . you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
Notice the word “recognize” which is used twice in these four verses. To recognize is to see something clearly and to be able to acknowledge what or who it is. To recognize is to understand its significance or importance and be able to respond appropriately.
Jesus weeps because they did not recognize that on this day the way of peace, the path to that alternative future, was being made clear to them. Jesus weeps because they did not recognize “the time of [their] visitation from God.”
The way of peace revealed in Jesus brings victory over all that oppresses us. It is the peace that awakens us to all God’s promises. It is the peace of those already living in resurrection power, even before death speaks its final word.
But this is not an easy peace. There are no pain free alternatives in this fallen world. We do not have a choice between the easy or the hard way, the way with pain or the way without pain. No, the way of peace is not an easy way. The way of peace is not without its own conflict, its own struggles, its own discouragements, and even its own dead ends.
Jesus himself models this hard peace. In the way that Jesus interacts with the other, in the way that he practices radical hospitality, in the way that he transgresses the social codes of purity and insults the pretensions of piety and false righteousness we see some of the strange things that make for peace. And because it is a hard and a strange peace it is just as hard for us to understand as it was for those in the time of Jesus.
The war maker and the peacemaker have always agreed that the way of peace is not always a peaceful way. There is opposition. As Jesus enters into the Jerusalem he not only encounters opposition, but he provokes opposition. He encounters others in Jerusalem concerned for peace, but their peace is not his peace.
The Roman Empire had its own brand of peace, the oppressive Pax Romana. The Pharisees and the Sadducees sought peace through collaboration and compromise. The Essenes sought peace through an off-the-grid piety. The Zealots sought peace by violent revolution.
The way of peace revealed in Jesus was distinct from all of these. The contempt of Jesus for Roman rule was made evident by his disregard for Roman taxation and his disrespect for Roman law. Jesus used some of his strongest language to condemn the false peace offered by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus never mentions the Essenes, and yet we see Jesus living a way of peace that is public and confrontational. Jesus recruited disciples from the Zealots and taught them a revolution without violence.
No wonder Jerusalem had such a hard time recognizing the way of peace!
Our own continuing blindness to the way of peace is apparent all around us. We who claim to follow Jesus seem no more knowledgeable than anyone else. We who gather at Christmas to sing “Peace on earth and good will to all people” sing it with no insider knowledge.
Does Jesus still weep?
The way of Jesus is a way of peace that does not make an easy privatized pact with the ruling empires (political or financial). It is a way of peace that does not collaborate for the sake of our own privilege and protection. It is a way of peace that does not withdraw from the naked public square, but actually has the courage, the faith, even the audacity perhaps to be naked in the public square. It is a way of peace that does not turn to a desperate violence. The devil doesn’t care who rules the world as long as they rule with the devil’s playthings and in the devil’s way.
Art Gish, a veteran with Christian Peacemaker Teams, served in Hebron for many years until his recent death at age 70. Art and his teammates would position themselves around Palestinian homes threatened for destruction, standing in front of bulldozers defying the orders of soldiers to withdraw lest they be arrested or shot. When asked his strategy for Christian peacemaking Art replied, “It’s very simple. We look where the trouble is and then go and put ourselves in the middle of it.”
What would it mean for the church to become a community of blessed troublemakers? What would it mean for the church to declare as its mission: “we look for trouble and put ourselves in the middle of it?”
Now the skeptical might say, “Well, things did not end so well for Jesus in Jerusalem did they? At the end of that week of alternative peacemaking Jesus wound up crucified, dead and buried. In what way then is this a realistic path to peace?” The threat of crucifixion doesn’t exactly motivate or inspire. And this of course puts the question right where it belongs.
Do we really believe in the resurrection? If the resurrection is only a symbol of the new being then to hell with it. A symbol is not worth dying for. But if the resurrection is the earthshaking testimony that the way of Jesus will not be defeated by any power as finite as death and that God is the ultimate peacemaker, then we have something to even be joyful about.
Hebrews 12 tells us “for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross”. It is for the joy set before us that we walk this Jesus way of peace. It is for the joy set before us that we form communities of solidarity and resistance. It is for the joy set before us that we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, no longer conforming to this present world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is for the joy set before us that we live out the way of peace in our relationships each and every day, sustained by God’s Spirit, loving as Christ loved, seeking God’s glory in all that we do.
The Catholic activist Ammon Hennacy was arrested at a protest for “disturbing the peace.” “I didn’t come here to disturb the peace,” Hennacy complained, “I came here to disturb the war.”
This Christmas let’s be the disturbers of the wars around us. Let’s be the blessed troublemakers. Let’s recognize the time of God’s visitation. Let’s practice resurrection and walk in the ways of peace.
This Christmas let’s honor the birth of the rebel king of Bethlehem.
Joy to the World, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her king!
Ric Hudgens is a "conspiratorial consultant" for ProActive: The Prophetic Activism Initiative: "creating spaces for God's freedom dreams". He is a perpetual newcomer to intentional Christian community at Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston, Illinois and pastor-in-residence at a local African-American congregation.