The Advent wreath seems so simple in its presentation: a single wreath, four taper candles, a pillar candle in the center, and four themes. I’ve heard these themes for most of my life: hope, peace, joy, and love. As I dreamed up this Anti-Advent wreath project, I naively thought that it would be a simple exercise in exploring advent themes and their opposites. I never imagined how this project would stretch me as it has these first two weeks, but I’m so grateful that it has.
For the first Sunday of Advent, I was challenged as I began to view hope as something other than a happy-clappy, positive emotion. I arrived at this as I grappled to understand hope’s opposite. If despair is hope’s opposite, hope is merely optimism. When I began to understand the opposite of hope as resignation, a whole new understanding of hope was opened up to me.
Resignation rescinds, and hope receives. Hope throws us a rope when we most need it.
For the second Sunday of Advent, I am considering the theme of peace. Traditionally, I’d always heard that the opposite of peace is war. Peace on earth meant the cessation of violence. World peace meant everyone would put down their weapons and just live their lives. People would be free to go about their work. Kids could play outside and go to school without fear of bombings and attacks. People could live out their days. And, certainly those things are part of peace. But this week, I have been wondering if there is more to peace than the absence of conflict. Is the absence of physical violence the same as peace, or is peace perhaps something more?
Have you ever had a conflict with someone that left you seething with anger? Or, at the very least made it hard for you to be around the other person? Time passes and distance grows, but despite the absence of a vigorous conflict between the two of you, as soon as you are back together again, there is tension. There is separation. There is something invisible, but tangible keeping you apart from each other.
Even when the conflict itself has subsided – perhaps you don’t even remember what it was you were angry about anymore! – there is still something palpable. There is no peace.
In the Old Testament, the word for peace is shalom, and shalom is a kind of peace that is all-encompassing. Shalom-peace is about wholeness. Shalom-peace is about completeness. Shalom is a vision of a reality in which there is reconciliation between God and humanity, and between every person. A shalom-reality isn’t just the absence of conflict, it is a restoration of everything until all things are as they should be.
I knew that about the idea of shalom, but I hadn’t explored the word for peace in the Greek nearly as thoroughly. The word that is used through the New Testament to describe peace is eirene (pronounced ay-RAY-nay, which is where we get the name Irene, as well as the word irenic). This word is used throughout the Bible to describe a Shalom reality, and it comes from the verb eiro (AY-roh), which means “to join” or “to tie together into a whole.” If peace is the bringing together of all things into a whole, the opposite of peace is separation.
Separation works to undo everything that holds us together with each other, within ourselves, and with God. Peace ties the world back together.
Separation destroys. Peace reconnects and rebuilds.
In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” As I reflected on this verse, I started thinking about what peace really means – not as the absence of conflict, but as wholeness and reconciliation. Jesus says he gives us his peace, and when he says that, I don’t think he’s saying, “Hey, I feel really calm in my spirit right now and I want you to feel that way, too,” even though there may be a calm and quietness that accompanies the peace of Christ as well.
When Jesus says he is giving us peace, he says he is giving us his peace. Christ, who experiences wholeness in unity with God, who healed divisions, who erased dividing lines, who was sought after by the whole world, gives us his peace. When Jesus says he is giving us his peace, what he is promising us is himself, and his reality. The connection Jesus has with God – Jesus is sharing that with us. The stitching together of the world and the mending of divisions – Jesus is sharing that with us. The peace of Christ is given to us and shared so that we might share in who Christ is, and so we might also share that same peace with the world.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). The word “peacemakers” is a compound word that literally means “do-ers of peace” or “makers of peace.” As we work to mend all of the separations and divisions in this world with the peace of Christ, we are living as God’s children.
As a person who loves to crochet, I absolutely love to make things. I love to take yarn and connect loops and stitches together to make something brand new. But, one of my other favorite things to do is mend beloved items that have worn holes in them or have fallen apart over years of stress and wear. Over time, through stress and use, the stitches separate from each other until the integrity of the peace has been compromised. As a mender – as a peace-maker – my job is to look at the stitch pattern, understand how the stitches used to hold together, and then slowly and carefully stitch those patterns back into place. As I do that, the area being mended will end up being stronger than the whole rest of the blanket. But, stitch by stitch, peace and wholeness are being restored.
Anti-Advent Candle Uncovering and Lighting – week 2 – Separation
For week 2 of Advent, I started with one candle uncovered. The remaining three are covered with the little terracotta pots.
Reader 1: In the book of Matthew, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15). Over the noise and chaos all around us, Jesus whispers his peace.
Reader 2: We confess that we often cover over peace by fragmenting and separating ourselves from God and from others. Yet, Jesus continues to offer us the peace which surpasses all understanding.
Reader 1: Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Reader 2: Even when we feel undone, Jesus continues to stitch us back together.
Reader 1: Today, we relight the hope candle, we remove the cover of separation, and we light the candle of peace. <re-light first candle, uncover second candle and light it>
Reader 2: We offer to God this day our whispered peace, our shouts for peace, our search for peace, and our work for peace.
All: This season of Advent, remind us, O God, that you meet us where we are. As we journey with you into the stillness and toward the hidden miracle of your coming, fill us with your everlasting peace. May your light shine brightly and fill our homes and our hearts. Amen.