A reporter for a major newspaper was writing an article on the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, which takes place in the fall of the year. He decided to visit the home of an Orthodox Rabbi, and they sat in the backyard, in a booth, a tent the family had constructed. After discussing their tradition, the rabbi's teenage sons joined them. The reporter noted that these sons of an orthodox rabbi were not like the teenagers you often encountered at the mall.
They were dressed formally, they wore yarmalkes on their heads, and longs spirals of hair covered their cheeks. The reporter looked at them, and thought to himself, "how unique". Then he looked down at their feet and they were both wearing "Air Jordan" tennis shoes, loose and unlaced.
At that moment he realized the rabbi could not keep his kids from being a part of the culture. He thought of an incident that occurred at that time, a young boy in the inner city being murdered because he refused to give up his tennis shoes, the sad reality that human life was worth less to some than the value of the shoes they saw on the feet of their heroes. What does this have to do with the prophecy of Zechariah? He will guide our feet in the way of peace. In the scripture, our feet are symbolic. How we walk defines who we are, as people, and determines where we are going.
In C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, there is a lion, Aslan, who is a Christ-figure. At one point in the story Aslan breathes on the feet of the giant, in order to bring him back to life. "Don't worry", says the Lion, "once his feet have been set right, the rest will follow". Could it be that Christ is breathing on our feet, and guiding us into the way of peace? And how is this happening? If we are going to be followers of Jesus, if we are somehow here to prepare the way for the Lord, if our feet are going to be guided into the way of peace, we begin by taking small steps. Let there be peace on earth, the hymn says, and let it begin with me.
Our older daughter was in middle school, and she was very politically interested and active. She attended some event and came home with a bumper sticker, which read, simply, PEACE IS POSSIBLE. I still have that bumper sticker.
Would I put it on my bumper? she asked, well actually she didn't ask, she sort of demanded. I do have a devious streak in me, at times, and I saw this as a teachable moment, and so I seized it. At that time Pam and were spending lots of time driving our two daughters to a variety of activities, music lessons and basketball practices and so on, and an alternative purpose emerged for that bumper sticker. "Liz", I said, "could we put the bumper sticker, where we could all see it, inside the car?"
That would remind me, and all of us, inside the car, that PEACE IS POSSIBLE. This wasn't satisfactory, but you get the idea. Peace begins with us, you and me, and it happens as we take small steps. One of my favorite verses of scripture is found at the end of Paul's letter to the Romans: If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (12. 17). This brief verse teaches us, first that sometimes peace is impossible. Will the Sunnis and Shiites be at peace with each other? Will the people of Darfur be at peace with each other? Impossible.
And yet, remember the promise, made early in Luke's gospel: What is impossible for us is possible for God. So far as it depends on you....we cannot take responsibility for the actions of others, but we can for our own actions.
Live peaceably with all...it begins with you and me, as we take small steps. Years ago I was teaching a Bible Study on God's grace---which is the unique thing about Christianity, the really distinctive thing about our faith, grace is the reality that we always receive more in this life than we deserve---I was reading and teaching and sharing all of this---and an email arrived one day, from a person in my family's past, someone who had done great harm to someone I love in my family. The man who wrote me lives in another state, but must have tracked me down on the internet, and in the process learned that I was a minister.
I am assuming that he is in a twelve-step program, where you go to the people you have harmed and make amends.
This is what he was doing. He was confessing, he was amending his life, he was asking for reconciliation, for grace. What do you do? We had some correspondence, and finally I said, after some prayer, that I could not speak for the person in my family, but from my side, I held nothing against him, and that I wished him God's peace. He wrote back, told me where he lived, and said that he was managing a pizza restaurant. If I ever came to his town he would be glad to treat me to a free pizza.
Sometimes I wish peace weren't so complicated. Paul Kagame, the heroic president of Rwanda, recently commented: "War is simpler than peace." It can be discouraging to come to Advent, year after year, lighting the candle of peace, reading the scriptures about peace, preaching a sermon on the topic of peace. Discouraging, if I did not know that I am living in the "between times", between promise and fulfillment, between hope and joy, between the first and the second comings of Christ. And so I pray that we will learn to beat our swords into plowshares, in Advent, 2009. I pray that we will, all of us, discover the small steps that lead us to the holy mountain where the lion and the lamb lie down together. Peace is possible.
Sources: Terry Mattingly, "And Now A Word From Your Culture", Shaping Our Future; Lillian Daniel, "Empire's Sleepy Embrace", Anxious About Empire.