Genuine peace grows in the rich soil of vulnerability and grace, fellowship and forgiveness, community and compassion. It involves an honest coming together of people, flaws and oddities included, followed by the bending and reshaping of everyone involved to accommodate the needs, quirks, and broken aspects of everyone else. Consequently, it also requires the humility of the strong, healthy, intelligent, confident, and well-prepared: those who can shift and sway the most are called to humble themselves in service to and love for the weak, sick, insecure, and foolish.
Sometimes peace means taking the time to show others how things work, instead of losing patience with their ignorance or clumsiness; sometimes it means admitting our own inabilities and weaknesses and being open to learning something new.
Peace means setting other people before either efficiency or self-sufficiency; putting harmony and mutual respect above pride.
Peace means making the alterations and accommodations needed to fit our ideals, visions, or traditions to the needs of the people around us – the people in our community, our family, neighbors, and friends. It may look like learning to cook new foods so that friends with food allergies or neighbors from different cultures can join us at our table. It might involve giving up time with our extended family to make sure we spend time with our spouse’s family. It means offering a helping hand instead of judgmental sideways glances at Thanksgiving dinner or on Christmas morning, when excited kids aren’t acting the way more staid adults expect. It means showing others – from the oldest to the youngest, from the richest to the poorest – the courtesy and respect we would like them to offer to us.
Sometimes, peace means we hang the breakable ornaments higher on the tree, leaving the more durable ones down low, so that even the youngest and most inexperienced people among us can enjoy the Christmas tree in their own way.
Peace is when everyone does their best to love each other, and forgives each other when that love is imperfect; when everyone is willing to compromise, and reconcile, and try again, and give others the chance to try again as well.
Peace is when someone sits in the chair you thought was yours, because it was the only chair from which you could reach your snack, but you don’t make him move, and he doesn’t exclude you, and together you both find happiness. Maybe you both find even more happiness in the compromise, this new solution to things, than you would have if either one of you were sitting alone.
Peace requires willingness to try, and fail, and try again. People are complicated, and the situations of life are complicated, and harmony – any kind of success, really – is rarely instantaneously achieved. Peace necessitates our dedicated, persistent, patient, and flexible pursuit. If one solution doesn’t work, peace says, let’s try something else. Let us leave no stone unturned in our efforts to create communion in this place, between these people.
And of course pursuing peace is more difficult than hanging an ornament on a tree, though it shares the same requirements for patience, persistence, flexibility, and creative thinking. The ornament and the tree are inanimate partakers of the process; every person in a community is involved in the process of peace-making, and brings with them a unique will, opinions, emotions, and experiences. Sometimes, peace fails.
The promise of Advent is that someday peace will fail no longer. The selfishness and anxiety that hamper it in even the best of us will be healed in Christ; knowing each other without the sin of objectification or the response of fear, we will be able to build a more glorious peace than any our world has yet known.