Editor’s Note: This post is part of a 4-part series for Advent 2022 by Liz Cooledge Jenkins
Sometimes we have no idea what peace would mean.
It’s all too difficult.
Everything in us is tired.
Everything in us has tried and feels like we have failed.
God, we could use some encouragement.
The cry “peace on earth” sounds so faint, so strange.
There is only so much in our power.
Still, we pray for peace.
Peace to our souls. Sometimes it is enough to survive.
Peace to our minds. You do not need to be perfect.
Peace to our hearts. Be kind to yourself, and feel all your feelings.
Peace to our communities. For everyone to have enough.
Peace to our world. For hands outstretched in kindness across arbitrary borders.
For peace that comes through truth-telling. There is no shortcut.
For peace that comes through mercy. We all need it.
For peace that comes through repentance. There is no peace while oppression continues.
For peace that comes through change. So much change.
Peace, this kind of peace, to our friendships, families, neighborhoods, churches, cities.
You, the peace-bringer, the peace-maker.
Blessed are you.
How might we cling to the promise of “peace on earth” this Advent season? What would peace look like? To what extent is it possible?
In Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer, Maya Angelou prayed this: “Dear Creator, You, the borderless sea of substance, we ask You to give to all the world that which we need most—Peace.” I feel this in my spirit—more and more so as the years go on. I feel this desperation for peace. That which we need most.
Two years ago, when 2020 was coming to a close, I remember how eagerly everyone looked forward to 2021—as if on January 1st everything would magically change. I fully believe that the new year can be a powerful symbol of new possibilities. But the pain that marked 2020 was never going to suddenly disappear at the whim of a human-made calendar. 2021 and 2022 have brought their own forms of violence, suffering, disease and dis-ease.
We need Angelou’s vision more than ever. As she writes about peace in her poem Amazing Peace: “We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by / its presence. / It is that for which we have hungered. / Not just the absence of war. But true Peace. / A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies. / Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.”
We are starving for an end to war—but also for a peace that is more than the absence of war. We long for harmony, comfort, security, belovedness. We have always longed for these things.
This kind of peace cannot be separated from justice. As activist Michelle Higgins writes:
“Crying out ‘no justice, no peace’ is more than a warning that we will not stop making noise; it’s stating where we are ‘already,’ because what we deserve is still in the ‘not yet.’ No justice: evictions, gentrification, and inhumane wages. No peace: homelessness, starvation, and crimes of desperation. No justice: race-based placement of prison waste stations, toxin-producing factories. No peace: low property values, trafficking hideouts, working-class Black people ignored and underinsured. Until we see God’s justice, there will be no peace.”
Higgins makes tangible the connection between injustice and lack of peace. We don’t have peace because we don’t have justice. And we will not have peace until we have justice—real, whole, costly, healing justice.
Pursuing this kind of justice requires stirring some things up. Pastor and speaker Osheta Moore knows this well. “Every day,” she writes, “we have to decide whether we’ll take Jesus’ challenge to live as peacemakers and not simply as peacekeepers.” We must not confuse the two.
Moore goes on to contrast peacemaking and peacekeeping: “Peacekeeping maintains the unjust status quo by preferring the powerful. Peacemaking flips over a few tables in the courtyards of oppression and dismantles systems that exploit the poor.”
And, “Peacekeeping does everything to secure a place at the table. Peacemaking says all are welcome at the table, then extends the table with leaves of inclusive love.”
Who do we prefer? Who do we prioritize? Whose comfort do we have in mind as we make daily decisions that impact our communities? Are we willing to flip over a few tables?
And, for that matter, what have we been willing to do to secure our own place at the table? Has this come at the expense of others’ inclusion? Where do we need to ditch the whole exclusive-table system and build our own truly expansive, truly inclusive tables instead? Are we willing to do that?
If peace feels impossible in our world, perhaps there are visions of peace that might feel smaller-scale but are just as weighty. There are pockets of peace, possibilities of peace, that we have some influence over—small-seeming places of peace that we have some agency to move toward.
We can seek to make right the unjust practices we see in our own communities. We can get to work addressing some of the issues Higgins names. Maybe we have been invited to tables that need to be opened up to everyone; maybe we can see some tables, as Moore writes, that need to be overturned. We can look for opportunities to move toward a greater harmony of spirit, as Angelou prays for, in our own spheres.
Peace-bringer God, hear our prayers. Call us to move in specific ways toward peace, and help us answer when you do. Make peace among us, and help us be peacemakers.
Liz Cooledge Jenkins is a writer, preacher, chaplain, and former college campus minister who lives in Burien, WA. She has a BS in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University and an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary. She regularly posts justice-minded biblical reflections, poems, “super chill book reviews,” and more at lizcooledgejenkins.com; she can also be found on FB (Liz Cooledge Jenkins, Writer) and Instagram (@lizcoolj). Her sermon on Ruth and Boaz was included in Sojourners’ collection of immigration sermons, El Camino.