Assault Weapons, the Prince of Peace, and a Christmas Greeting!
The season of Advent is a time of shadows, of gradually gathering darkness: each night a few minutes longer than the last. We light candles of hope not because of the light, but because of the dark. We light them because we need to find our way through the shadows.
The news headlines these days provide plenty of gloom: a world awash in conflict and refugees, weaponry and violence, acts of terror and calls for exclusion. And so Christians wait and hope for God’s coming (“Advent” means “coming”), wait and hope for a baby lying in a manger, wait and hope for the Prince of Peace.
What does it mean to follow the Prince of Peace today? For example, can we American Christians agree that, at the very least, it means acknowledging that our communities are too violent, our homes and streets too overrun by assault weapons? In the wake of San Bernardino and Colorado Springs and Roseburg and Charleston and Newtown and on and on, can we witness together that the peace to which the Prince calls us does not include privately owned assault rifles, and that instruments of war have no place in our neighborhoods?
Jesus of Nazareth lived in a time of violence, too, and many of his contemporaries (some of whom were known as “Zealots”) called for violence against the Roman Empire. But this only makes more striking the ways in which Jesus took a different path, living and teaching in ways that make for peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he declared in the Sermon on the Mount. “Put away your sword,” he later said to Peter. Even in distress, Jesus did not take up arms — and the very idea of “assault” is the opposite of his Gospel of love and justice.
We may disagree about the extent to which firearms belong in our neighborhoods at all, but surely Christians can come together around a movement to ban assault weapons — machines expressly designed to kill people swiftly and extensively — from our streets and homes. We cannot let despair or political complexities render us silent or cynical. The shadows may fall, but we can only light our candles of hope again and again.
And surely we can also come together around a movement to dispel the fear in our communities, remembering those beautiful, challenging words with which the angels always begin: “Do not be afraid.”
Christmas is a season of small, miraculous things: a star in the sky only a few wise observers can see; an angelic chorus only a few no-name shepherds can hear; and a forgotten, homeless baby, indistinguishable from babies born every day, who is Emmanuel, “God with us.” Even though last night may have been two minutes longer than the night before, now is the time of turnings. Tonight will be two minutes shorter, and over the weeks and months to come, the day will continue to grow. God’s salvation is at hand. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.
So, let us pray that this season’s small miracles include each one of us recommitting to this ancient good news, this insistent vision of God’s shalom for the whole world, so that every child everywhere may not only sleep through the night, but (as the carolers sing) “sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”