It's snowing in Detroit. Traffic crawled along 10 past accidents and spin-offs. There'll probably be a snow day tomorrow. I'm planning for a carol sing party Sunday and picking hymns I've been reflecting on the idea of peace on earth, something that seems so far and unimaginable with bad events on the news and tragedy in lives I hold dear. It's usually easy to feel it in the cheer of the season with time spent slowly with loved ones -- tree cutting, long sing-alongs, and sipping hilariously large novelty bottles of Trader Joe champagne. But it harder to see this year as scandal and brutality riffle through our country, as political policy further disenfranchises the most vulnerable parts of society, as my extended family reels from a sudden death. How can a season, a day, even one where we commemorate a savior, bring peace?
My friend C suggested we sing I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day at the party. It's a lovely song by a favorite childhood poet. In it, the narrator hears the tolling of Christmas bells calling "peace on earth, goodwill to men." At first they sound sweet but as they roll on something inside him blanches at their message. "Wrong is strong and mocks the song of 'peace on earth, goodwill to men,'" he says to himself. But the bells continue and call him back to rememrance of the day, that Christ has come to set right the gross and incalculable pain and discord and fragmentation of individuals, relationships, societies.
"The wrong shall fail, the right prevail." Easy to say, right?
I don't think it was for Longfellow. I studied him in college and wrote a biographical sketch. I remember reading about his wife and young daughter sealing letters in the family library and a drop of flaming wax falling onto a crinoline skirt. Longfellow tried to save them but couldn't and was so badly burned in the face that he couldn't shave. His beard became his signature look but it hid a deep and terrible pain. He fought crippling depression for years. Later, his only son was terribly wounded fighting for abolition in the American Civil War.
And yet, he writes, "God is not dead nor does he sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail."
That is the truth I'm turning my heart to this advent, opening it -- however heavy it can feel on some days -- to make room for a tiny child come to set in motion the healing of the world. Through this present time and even its turmoil, God is working. Love will have the last word. It's not some future promise of bliss and it-will-all-be-okay but a call to walk forward in love and faith and prayer that I may be a peacemaker in whatever way I can to whomever I encounter today.
May peace prevail on earth and our hearts -- yours and mine -- this Advent.
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