Seeking Peace during Advent
Photo by Flickr user kavehfa
[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 9:18-10:4; John 10:31-42; and Hebrews 10:19-25. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
The Isaiah passage is full of fire, fury, smoke, and scorched land. But it did not strike a meaningful cord until I read it a second time – three days after Sunday, October 31, when 58 worshipers at Our Lady of Salvation Church, the largest Catholic church in Baghdad, were gunned down by terrorists. Elder Yousif al-Saka emailed photos of the church in the aftermath of this horrific act: Everything in the church was scorched, sooty, broken, destroyed. You could feel the grief, disbelief, anguish, and desolation in those pictures. The cry of pain in the words and faces of the Christians in Baghdad was haunting.
Why do people persecute one another? Why does religion pit brother and sister against brother and sister? A recent book by Eliza Griswold, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from Fault Line between Christianity and Islam, describes in horrific detail the chaos and murder that has characterized religious relationships in Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. No wonder “the land is scorched by the fury of the Lord of Hosts, and people have become fuel for the fire.”
But for all this, God’s “hand is stretched out still.” In John, we read that the Jews picked up stones to stone Jesus, not for his good deeds, they explained, but for blasphemy, calling himself the son of God. The anger created by perceived notions of what is wrong or right, the true way with religious tradition apparently is as old as the Scriptures. Two thousand years later, we still live with intolerance, a perceived righteousness, and stones to throw (actually, much worse) at those whom we believe do not follow the right religious path. So we find wrath among and between faiths, and we confront God’s wrath against the behavior of his people.
The question is, how do we get around this wrath, this violence? Isaiah and Hebrews tell us: forgiveness. If God can forgive his people with a hand that is “stretched out still,” then we must forgive one another as well. We must see the best in one another, accept differing views and beliefs. As Hebrews says, “We ought to see how each of us may best arouse others to love and active goodness … encouraging one another … .”
The violence and wrath in the world calls each of us to do our part by reaching out in love, by showing compassion and support, indeed by being our brothers and sisters’ keepers. Hebrews says, “… the blood of Jesus makes us free to enter boldly into the sanctuary by the new, living way…” In Jesus’ name and in his love, let us forgive and pray for peace and seek to end violence and wrath in our worldly midst.
Prayer: Dear God, you have extended your hand in forgiveness for our sins. Show us the way to extend our hands in love and forgiveness to our brothers and sisters everywhere. Amen.
Marilyn J. Seiber is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
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