Editor’s Note: This Advent meditation is based on the Gospel text for the second week of Advent, Luke 3:1-6. Although I applied the text specifically to seeing Muslims through Advent eyes, as Muslims are targets of foreign policy violence and aggression by politicians, media, and even Christian leaders, the Gospel message of seeing God in victims and enemies could apply to any person or group used by another as a scapegoat.
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” I hear the cry go up through the wilderness of barren souls, souls laid bare of compassion by a spirit of fear rushing like an evil wind harshly biting ‘neath the skin.
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” I hear, as people prepare their armaments, as gun sales soar and more and more we see nation after nation heading for war.
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” I whisper, “Prepare me, prepare we, prepare the way of the Lord.” I take a breath to inhale the Spirit of Love that utters these words and exhale the spirit of the age that prepares for every kind of violence but never for reconciliation. I let the decree fill me, focus me, open me, urge me, guide me. In a wilderness of fear and hatred, where the howling voices of politicians and generals and profiteers demonize some and call others to arms, I contemplate what it means to prepare now, in the midst of jingoistic bells tolling for battle, the way of the Prince of Peace.
Because to prepare the way of the Lord is to prepare our hearts and minds and whole selves to live into what was revealed 2000 years ago, a revelation that is obscured by calls to arms and theologies of glory. God comes among us not in the form of the powerful, not with wealth and weapons, but humbly, meekly, mildly. God is found in the servant, the outcast, the vilified. God is in those whom we reject, those whom we abandon, those we mock, those we scapegoat, those we kill.
And in 2015 – when bombs and missiles fall in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen, when people cower under threat of flying robotic weapons of death, when they are made to flee their broken countries, homes destroyed, family members murdered, cramming themselves into boats and camps to escape a living hell only to get doors slammed in their faces, and when the land of the free has become the belly of the imperial beast and citizens must endure the hatred and distrust of their neighbors – we must see the face of God in our Muslim sisters and brothers.
We can’t make a highway for Peace by leveling land with bombs. The mountains that must be made low are the blockades around our hearts, the towering egos and pillars of pride that block our vision. We can’t pave the way for Love by filling the valleys and ditches and missile-made craters with dead bodies. The low places that must be filled with hope and joy and welcome reside in the hearts of those who have been forgotten in the rush to destroy an enemy that can only be strengthened by violence, because violence itself is the true enemy. The collateral families, those who weep and mourn cradling their beloved – weak and war-weary, injured, deceased, in their arms – these are the people who must be uplifted, embraced, comforted with the assurance that they and their loved ones are cherished. The men and women who privately weep in silence after enduring one more insult, one more injury, these are they who must be enfolded in our friendship.
Victims of missiles abroad and malice at home prostrate themselves on the ashes of land blown apart or fire-bombed mosques while we dare to wonder if the god they worship is too violent.
How the log in our eye blinds us!
Triumphalist Christianity is a hall of distorted mirrors, a discordant echo chamber, cheering American aggression. As we make roads on land for legions of soldiers and turn skies into aerial pathways for drones, we steer ourselves through a dark and narrow world that shuts out the light of Christ. We know not who we are or what we do. Our way of violence makes way for vengeance. Moving in circles on this crooked path, entrapped within the walls that shut others out but cannot box Christ in, we are blinded by our fears to the terrors we inflict.
The way of the Lord must lead away from our skewed and narrow perspectives. If we prepare a highway by paving over others, we are our own stumbling blocks and it is our hearts that must be cleared of thorns and brambles. He is with those we have deemed enemies and it is our own hearts he still must reach.
We open the door to the Prince of Peace when the truth of our victims’ humanity pierces our hearts with unbearable light that shatters the fragile façade of sacred violence on which we build our lives. As he walks and the light illumines the darkness within us, our hearts are washed in tears of repentance. It is then we recognize that whatever name we use for the Holy One, however we pray, we are united in worship to the true God when we love one another, and united in idolatry to the false gods of violence and fear when we condemn each other with hate. When we let the Lord of Love pave a way through our hearts, we will embrace our sisters and brothers in Islam and every creed. We will lay down our arms, taking our security in the Love that reconciles us and our enemies into Love’s own self. We leave ourselves vulnerable to those who do not understand, but God’s love will eventually pierce their hearts too, and in our non-retaliation and offering of love we become instruments of God’s peace.
The way of the Lord cuts through barriers and labels, paved by instruments of peace who come from all religions and no religion at all. All who show mercy, compassion, generosity and love across barriers of human divisions bear the fruit of a new world ushered in by the Prince of Peace. When others taste and see the goodness of this fruit they bear it in themselves too, until the old world of violence is drowned and reborn again in the waters of Love’s womb. And all shall see the salvation of God.
Image: Copyright Jorbasa Fotografie via Flickr. Available via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerives 2.0 Generic license