By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:1-7 (NRSV)
In tightrope walking, the wire must be pulled securely between two points. It must have tension. A performer learns to maintain their balance by centering their weight above the wire. Focused, balanced as they step precariously across the air, knowing that they cannot let anything peripheral distract them from reaching their destination. This is why tightropes work. You need tension in order to stay level.
Shalom. The Hebrew word for “peace.” Shalom is not the absence of tension, but rather this peace exists in the midst of tension. We sometimes fall into thinking that if we have God’s peace then there will be no tension, no conflict, no issues to face. However, the truth is that God’s peace is present in the midst of all this, despite the circumstances around us.
Individually, it is overwhelming to consider how to bring this peace into a broken world. We so easily become distracted by all that we cannot do. Our minds are distracted and preoccupied with schedules and not always thinking about heavenly things. For many of us, this Advent season will be an endurance marathon of way too much to do, way too much to eat and way too much stress. We live in the tension of such a highly competitive society, yet we have the opportunity to focus on the message of hope that God is with us.
The Advent season is filled with the spirit of generosity and hospitality—shalom. The true blessing of the season can be discovered when we focus on preparing our hearts to receive again the greatest gift given to humankind: the hope, joy and peace brought to earth in the birth of the Christ child.
With the belief that life in Christ provides an abundance, more than enough of all that we need, in the midst of all the tension of the world, we should focus our mindset on choosing peace, generosity and hospitality.
As we wait in this season of Advent, we actively listen for how God is calling us. This requires patience and a posture of peace. In the words of Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” Allow yourself to be formed in the waiting, prepared to offer what you have when you are called.
So, at the heart of the Christmas message there is a baby born who could change everything. Christmas is all about Jesus coming to be with us. It is about Immanuel, God with us, looking on. Despite all the distractions around us, we focus on the hope that exists because of the birth of the Christ child. We anticipate the joy of experiencing God’s promise fulfilled, and in so doing, our hearts are prepared both to receive the greatest gift and to share it freely with others.
As Christians living in the tension between the present reality and the hope of the future, we live our lives balancing on the tightrope, centered in peace, moving steadily toward the destination of God’s kingdom to come. Shalom.
Because in Advent, we give thanks for the child that brought the hope that never fades; the hope that is that anticipation of what is to come. This Advent season is our opportunity to wait for that which matters most—which never fades—and which is always with us.
By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston