For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
What does it mean for us to claim the Prince of Peace in times like these? How do we reconcile the Good News of the Prince of Peace with news we read each day of unjust tax bills, increased threats of war with North Korea, famine in South Sudan, and the pervasiveness of sexual assault against women in our society?
Advent is the season when we wrestle honestly with the darkness and sin in our world. It is a time when we wait in the tension between this darkness and the hope we proclaim. At times we can feel helpless, challenged to find hope amidst such violence and pain.
Our scriptures are also filled with conflict but they are not without hope. In the midst of the darkness there is a light - a child is born.
In the UCC, we have clung on to this hope in the Prince of Peace through our witness as a Just Peace Church. The call to just peace is not a weak, passive hope but rather an engaged commitment to work at the intersection of justice and peace. This witness calls us to confront the violence and darkness, strive toward a more peaceful world, and to push against efforts to weaken or devalue peacebuilding efforts or institutions like the State Department and U.S. Institute of Peace.
Now is a time when we must draw close to the manger – to the prince of peace- and renew the hope proclaimed in our Just Peace witness that ‘peace is possible.’
Working for Peace in the Local Church
At Union Congregational UCC in West Palm Beach, Florida, we believe firmly that ‘peace is possible’ which is why we chose to explore a year-long process of becoming a Just Peace Church. During the process, at times, we felt challenged to find how we might help make a difference when the need for justice and peace matters seemed so great and caused us to question how our small church could possibly make any kind of impact. Yet, we held strong in our hope that ‘peace is possible’ even in our feeling of helplessness.
Our feelings of helplessness did not cause us to lose our hope in God. So, after a year of hopeful exploration on whether to become a Just Peace Church, God drew closer to us. We felt called to educate ourselves on environmental justice, mass incarceration, treatment of migrant farm workers, homelessness and hunger, and to engage these issues proactively. We also realized the importance of partnering with others who share in our calling to help make an impact on matters of just peace in our community. Thus, we were able to reach out to others to form these partnerships, which has helped us to overcome the feeling of helplessness.
On Sunday, we lit the Advent candle of hope, to remind us that God is with us, especially on our path of just peace. We continue our just peace community partnerships because God’s promise of the Christ child was kept, and therefore, we stand on the promises of God. As the prophet Isaiah tells us that this Child is born for us all, is almighty, and is the Prince of Peace.
We believe that peace is possible because for unto us, a Child is born.
Rev. Dr. Sheila Guillaume is pastor of Union Congregational United Church of Christ in West Palm Beach, FL. In addition, she serves as the Southeast Regional Youth Minister for the Florida Conference and chair of the UCC’s Just Peace Steering Committee.