I’ve been reading the holiday favorite ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens this season. What’s interesting to me is how Dickens is using this story to highlight the condition of poor children and the working class in 19th century England. In fact, I’m surprised that until now it had not really dawned on me that it’s the major backdrop of the book. Scrooge is Scrooge because of how he thinks about and treats these groups, not simply because he is rich or has an interesting past. After countless live performances, public readings and film adaptions, I have somehow missed the issues raised in this novella.
When we think about the Christmas story, it’s easy to forget the oppressed position of the Jewish people under Roman rule. We understate the faith of the Shepherds, members of the working class, as they left their livelihood to go see the baby Jesus. The boldness of the Magi to defy the orders of the government had to have been seen as a bit of a scandal for Herod the Great. And have you read Mary’s prophetic (and yes political) song of praise?
“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”” – Luke 1:46-55 ESV
How could we forget that the lowly birth of the Savior of the world was a bold statement to the ruling and royal classes of the day? Like the backdrop of Dicken’s story, the themes of justice and peace disrupt the easily embraced holiday images of tranquility and calm. True peace happens when all people, in all places and from all perspectives, are able to live in safety and prosperity. This is what the Hebrew word for peace, ‘shalom’ means. And this is one of many gifts the Prince of Peace has come to bring us.
So on the last Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of Peace. As we come to the end of our Advent Journey, we are reminded that the whole world is waiting for the Prince of Peace; the reign of God that brings justice to the world. This light, however, points to the places where ‘shalom’ has not yet arrived. We can not experience true peace without staring into the spaces where it does not yet exist. And peace is not ours personally as long as our actions and desires take ‘shalom’ away from others, whether its intentional or not. This is the lesson that Scrooge learns at the end of Dicken’s novel: my experience of ‘shalom’ is only full when your experience is as well.
As we light the fourth and final candle of Advent, may the light help us see the ways that we can make way for the peace of God to enter into the world – from neighborhoods to nations. Let the peace of God reign!