“Peace on Earth, goodwill to all!” sang the angels, but the secret scandal of Christmas is that we don’t really believe them. Little girls in white dresses and tinsel on their heads recite words of prophetic power and all we can say is “Ahh” as the baby is laid in the manger. Maybe we like the Prince of Peace being wrapped in swaddling bands because that means his hands are tied.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of swords being recycled into farming equipment, and when you look at the vast amounts the nations spend on guns and bombs, well, that’s a lot of tractors. But that’s just a symptom. Before anything else we carry our swords in our hearts, and our weapons are our words.
Often those weapons are aimed at those beyond us; take a look at how social media talks about migrants, talks to women, how the first reaction so often seems to be trolling or griefing or whatever cute euphemism we think might blunt our attack. Yet the things we say, the things we type have power. It starts with words, but now it’s 2018 and swastikas are making a comeback.
Sometimes our weapons are focused on ourselves – words of condemnation, words of anger, words of shame. Sometimes we speak those words because we don’t have any other script, sometimes those words have been programmed into us by others, sometimes they’re amplified by the chemistry in our brains, and peace is stolen away leaving a babble of inadequacy and despair in its place.
Today, in some traditions at least, we approach the advent crown and light the candle of peace. In doing so, we’re inviting the Prince of Peace to illuminate us, to show us what to do with our weapons.
And so, as that candle burns, may it light our way, may it ignite a smith’s furnace in which our swords and guns can be turned into spades and wheelchairs.
May it light tables and desks as we take posts and headlines and emails and origami them into swans and boats and planes, sew our flags into blankets, remix our marching songs into dance tracks.
May it become a light at the end of the tunnel as it leads us to medication or therapy or whatever else will calm the volley of arrows we shoot at ourselves.
May it burn away our anger, our fear, our prejudice, may it unclench our fists and cause us to drop our weapons and let us see the Other in all their humanity.
May it light our vigils, may it burn hope in the dark, may it spark into life a fire of justice.
And may it guide us to the manger, the cross and the throne as we untie the hands of the Prince of Peace in our lives.