Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | November 27, 2013

The spirituality of Advent

God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  [from Isaiah 2]

 

Our congregation is just finishing up a bicentennial year.  One of the things we’ve done is to celebrate and remember different eras of the last 200 years.  Some people commented that so much of U.S. history is marked by significant wars—something they already knew but just don’t think about very often.

When Isaiah says that nations will beat their swords into plowshares, what’s your reaction?  A skeptical “yeah, right” seems most reasonable.  We have, like Isaiah, lived to see horror on battlefields and in cities, and stubborn anger in every nation and group.  Is cynicism the only legitimate reaction to calls for peace?

Maybe.

But as we enter Advent, it’s appropriate to turn our hearts to the spirit of peace.

Advent is a time of both waiting and preparation.

Waiting is what we do, when it comes to peace.  Waiting to hear the outcome of peace talks.  Waiting for Syria to behave better.  Waiting for Egypt to settle internal differences.  Waiting for our own elected officials to get along.

What about preparation, though?  How do we prepare for peace?

By walking in the way of peace ourselves.  Which isn’t easy.

Spirituality in Advent—peace in Advent—takes many forms.  It may be deciding to let go of anxiety in the face of too much to do.  Or determining to speak kindly to your family or neighbor, or starting to let go of an old hurt.  It may mean praying for someone who annoys you or refusing to repeat (or share on Facebook) a mean comment.  Peace could be looking into the face of an antagonist and seeing your own countenance reflected there.  Maybe peace for you is deciding to spend a day volunteering instead of shopping, or choosing to donate to a cause that will advance justice, instead of buying that sweater you don’t really need.

In these next weeks, as our hearts turn toward Bethlehem, may peace be our meditation, our goal, our way of being.  The swords of anger and agitation in our own hearts are slowly remolded into plowshares of kindness and mercy.  Then, our reaction to Isaiah’s words can also be remolded, from “yeah, right” into “may it be so.”

Advent 1

Advent 1

 

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2013

 

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Responses

  1. Thought provoking without being preachy…as usual. Thank you for the work behind this fine writing.

  2. At this time of the year, I feel a lot like the phrase from Andrew Marvell’s poem on a different subject: “The world is with us, late and soon.” So much of our lives are caught up in the frenzied process of trying to balanc family life, church duties, the approach of the religious Christmas and consumer Christmas, and the duties of work and sustenance. Sometimes, in this situation, I want to say: “Stop the world. I want to get off!”

    As demanding as the Cantata and Christmas eve are, and they are part of the frenzy, I remind myself that they do keep us riveted to the true meaning of the season and its greater significance for our lives as Christians. So much else is mere “getting and spending”–or should I say, spending and hoping to get?

    The peace of this blog entry, I think, is in part about a search for the means to find a measure of peace in our lives when so many of these pressures of the times bear down upon us and seem beyond our control. Amazingly, we actually do have more control than we think and it begins “by walking in the way of peace ourselves.” At first, it is a conscious commitment; then it becomes an everyday ethic; and finally it is a habit. While our emotions can always get in the way, they can be disciplined and channeled to positive responses that bring peace to our daily behavior and offer peace to those around us.

    I think of it as a form of gift-giving. No expectation is asked for, but an air of expectancy about it wider effects shrouds our every gift. In addition, in a gift economy, the true gift in not returned, but passed on to others. We hope and expect that the receiver will simply “pay it forward.”

    Will it bring peace to the Middle East? Will it temper Iran? Will it topple Bashar al-Assad? Will it create the conditions for democracy in Afghanistan and bring our men and women there back to America? Hardly, but exemplary personal behavior and peace in the hearts of more Americans and Christians who often abet American intervention around the world and provoke hatred toward our military and intelligence incursions are resources we can offer and a place to begin. Peace, after all, is not some abstract goal; it is a journey that involves self-discovery and national political courage to achieve. In so doing, it can lead, as Melissa so eloquently states, steps to a world where “the swords of anger and agitation in our own hearts are slowly remolded into plowshares of kindness and mercy.” That, to me, is the Christian way, the way of Christ.


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