Second Sunday of Advent: Choose Hope

The Advent season is the time when we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus. Isaiah 9:6 says:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Yet when we look at the Middle East today, peace seems to be absent, if not impossible to achieve. The brutal civil war in Syria, the destructive actions of ISIS, and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians are just a few reasons why peace seems so far away. This past week, President Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the Capital of Israel without regard for final status negotiations or the aspirations of the Palestinians, contributes to this chaos.

In the midst of these realities, we must ask ourselves what is a biblical vision of peace? In his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth Bailey notes,“Peace is often limited to absence of war and the cessation of violence…but peace in the Bible includes the finest of loving relationships between individuals, within families, communities and nations.” In other words, peace is not just the absence of conflict, but the transformation of conflict between people into flourishing relationships. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom (cognate with the Arabic word salaam), carries this meaning as well. Shalom is peace in the sense of wholeness, completion, and reconciliation. The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and particularly the status of Jerusalem, can make such a vision of peace seem impossible. After all, it’s difficult enough to work out peace treaties and ceasefires. To go beyond this to the point where wrongs are made right and enemies can become friends, even family, would require a miracle.

But this is the beauty of the birth of Christ. Two thousand years ago, in the town of Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace was born. His Kingdom was not what his followers expected, for it was not a kingdom of earthly power. In contrast to the Pax Romana, Jesus demonstrated a different kind of peace. His peace did not come through the exercise of force and violence but through self-giving love and solidarity with the oppressed.

Today, the peace and reconciliation of Christ is needed as much as ever in the Holy Land and around the world. Christian leaders in Jerusalem have expressed concern for recent threats to the Status Quo of Jerusalem that would harm the Christian community. Churches for Middle East Peace stands alongside the Christians in Jerusalem and affirms that the “vision of a shared Jerusalem – a Jerusalem of Jews, Christians, and Muslims; a Jerusalem of Palestinians and Israelis – represents the only viable option for a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land.”

This Advent season, let us endeavor to peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). As we look at the conflict in Jerusalem and in the broader Middle East, let us work for more than an end to violence. Let us work for justice for those who have been wronged, wherever possible seeking to restore what was lost, and for reconciliation where before there was only hate. Though it often seems impossible, we Choose Hope in the knowledge that the Prince of Peace has gone before us. The celebration of his birth is a celebration of hope for justice and peace in Jerusalem and beyond.

God,

As we look forward to the birth of the Prince of Peace, we pray for the chaos here in the United States and also for all the people in the Middle East who live in the absence of peace. We pray especially for the Christians in Jerusalem, that you would preserve the historic presence of their communities in the city. We pray for Israelis to live in a society free of fear and with hope for a future for their children. We pray for Palestinians who have aspirations for freedom and dignity and self-determination. We pray that conflict would cease, and that a peace full of your love would rise in its place, and that enemies would become brothers and sisters. May we be active in working toward this peace in the knowledge that you are already at work in the world.

Amen.

This devotion was written by Michael Santulli, the Research and Partnership Intern at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). Michael recently completed his Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and Economics at Gordon College.

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