We light the candle of Peace on the Second Sunday of Advent and reflect on the things that make for peace.
Two weeks ago Pope Francis took a step beyond where other Popes have stood and called for the abolition of nuclear weapons in a speech at Nagasaki. One hundred thousand people were killed instantly by two atomic bombs and an additional four hundred thousand died of radiation sickness. Two thirds of the member states of the United Nations have called for the abolition of nuclear weapons, but the nations that have them claim that nuclear deterrence is needed to prevent wars, an argument the Pope refuted. He pointed out that the billions of dollars invested in nuclear weapons could do far more to end war by being used to end poverty, create economic equity and address the global environmental crisis that is leading to resource shortages and refugee dislocation and other problems that make wars more likely.
A hugely powerful and wealthy minority in the world is making the world more violent, including the violent upheaval in nature caused by the climate crisis. They are doing it out of fear, greed and ambitious self-interest, going against the core ethical teachings of all traditions (the Golden Rule, love of neighbor as one with ourselves and compassion for the vulnerable and oppressed). They seem unstoppable, investing hundreds of millions in lobbying and propaganda and the election of authoritarian politicians.
Yet we are called to work for peace and shown the path to peace by the moral, ethical and spiritual wisdom of Pope Francis and leaders like him in every faith tradition going back to the ancient Hebrew Prophets. History has shown that when just a small percentage of the people rises up nonviolently to insist on change—ten percent or less—change becomes inevitable. Gandhi said that the soul-truth of a nonviolent movement is the only thing on earth more powerful than nuclear weapons.
But the Taoist saying is true that says there will be “no peace in the world…without peace in the heart.” We need to find a way to inner peace in order to overcome all the internal and external obstacles that stand in the way of our rising to demand peace on earth.
The blessing of Advent wisdom is that it leads us exactly where we need to go to find inner peace, which is into the darkness within and around us, facing the painful truth of our shadow selves and our shadow world that we tend to avoid out of fear or despair. We need to brave the darkness in order to find the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome.
The book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone provides a map of this Advent path, along with the comfort and inspiration we need to take it. George Kinder’s book The Seven Stages of Money Maturity talks about a stage of “Understanding” we reach where we can find peace in the most difficult circumstances and from there go forth with vigor and vision for beneficial change. We will hear voices from scripture that point the way as well, including the prophet Isaiah, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and John himself.
We will sing three beautiful Advent carols, “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People,” “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,” and “Watchman, Tell Us of the Night.” The choir will sing “Be Still and Know” by John Bell and “Little Drop of Heaven” by Pepper Choplin. Pianist Annemieke McLane will play three beautiful, contemplative pieces, Prelude VIII, BWV 853 by J.S. Bach, and “Der Dichter Spricht” and “Kind in Einschlummern by R. Schumann.
Here are two of the hymns we will be singing: