From Interpreter Online
By the Rev. Kristin M. Holbrook
I was in seminary studying for pastoral ministry the night the bombing began in Bagdad. I remember watching the news coverage and seeing the city, under the cover of darkness, lighting up every few minutes as the bombs struck.
A few months later, I was in Havana, Cuba, serving on a mission team. This was my tenth visit in five years to the same church in Havana, and, by this point, I considered these folks family.
These brothers and sisters knew me before I felt a call to ministry, before I knew any Spanish and long before I became a pastor. Over the years, I had celebrated quinceañeras with the youth, witnessed as friends were married, seen the birth of babies and spent countless hours at summer camps, in worship services and eating in people’s homes. But something was different about this visit. I heard fearful talk about bombs. In homes and on the street, people asked, “What if we are next?”
This particular visit was also my first Christmas away from home. On Christmas Eve, I worshipped at a church where the pastor preached about the Prince of Peace who was born into a world of violence, division and injustice. As I listened that evening, this familiar passage became real to me: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6). We sang “Silent Night,” as I had expected. This is what everyone sings on Christmas Eve. But I discovered that the words of this beloved hymn are different in Spanish. Instead of “Sleep in heavenly peace,” the end of the song says, “Brilla la estrella de paz,” (May the star of peace shine.) I wept as we sang. I longed for the Prince of Peace to come in a way that I had never experienced before.
It was not about head knowledge: Peace was not a concept, a theory or a theological term. It was not about people who were nameless and lived in a land far away, where there was war or violence or ethnic cleansing. Now, the intense longing for peace was personal.
I longed for peace for these folks who were living in fear, these folks who were dreading the bombs that they anticipated were coming from my country, these folks who clamored desperately for the arrival of the Prince of Peace, the one who would put the world right. THESE were people who I knew and loved, people for whom I would give my life, people who I consider family.
There is something significant about God choosing incarnation, God choosing to live among us, to dwell with us, to tabernacle in our midst. God doesn’t sit high in heaven, reigning in the distance and far removed from us. God chooses to take on flesh, to move into our neighborhood and experience the reality of human existence alongside us. This is what we reflect on in the season of Advent: Peace is incarnational. Peace is not an idea; rather, it is an embodiment, an enfleshment. God sends the Prince of Peace not to be distinct from us but to be one of us, among us.
As Jesus walks into the city of Jerusalem a few days before he is to die – a walk we ironically call the “Triumphal Entry” – he stops in a place where he can see the entire city spread out before him, and he weeps. “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:42)
I wept on that Christmas Eve in Havana as I recognized that we so often ignore and turn away from the things that make for peace. We settle for a false sense of “all is right in my world,” and we shield ourselves from the pain and injustice of the world around us, in our local communities and in the global community. But what God shows us in the season of Advent is that God’s way is to join in the clamor for peace and justice, not from a comfortable distance but by physically accompanying those who struggle and cry out. God’s way is to draw close and be present. Jesus invites us to this way as we live into his kingdom now and wait for it to come in fullness.