Comfort, comfort my people!
says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended,
that her penalty has been paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins!
A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Every valley will be raised up,
and every mountain and hill will be flattened.
Uneven ground will become level,
and rough terrain a valley plain.
The Lord’s glory will appear,
and all humanity will see it together;
the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”
A voice was saying:
And another said,
“What should I call out?”
All flesh is grass;
all its loyalty is like the flowers of the field.
The grass dries up
and the flower withers
when the Lord’s breath blows on it.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass dries up;
the flower withers,
but our God’s word will exist forever.
Go up on a high mountain,
Raise your voice and shout,
Raise it; don’t be afraid;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
Here is the Lord God,
coming with strength,
with a triumphant arm,
bringing his reward with him
and his payment before him.
Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock;
he will gather lambs in his arms
and lift them onto his lap.
He will gently guide the nursing ewes. (Isaiah 40:1-11, CEB)
“No justice, no peace!” we have heard many times this year. “Peace” has come to mean “silence,” “acceptance,” “docility.” “Peace” has come to mean not the absence of strife but the ignorance of it, the half-closed eyes that cannot or will not see it. The women of the Church do not want that kind of peace.
“Peace” is that which is often “passed” in church services, a synonym for greeting the others seeking peace in that hour. Yet how often do we bring peace into a service, no matter our gender, in the heartache of a broken world? How often do we have it to give? If we are not at peace, if we are not still within our souls, how shall we pass anything but turmoil to our neighbors? Shall we simply sit silent while greetings flow around us? For women, the silence is both no option and the only option. “Peace” is what many say as a way of saying, “stop talking.” The chafing bonds of Paul’s injunctions spoken in a different time of specific context close women’s mouths in many denominations and they are told to be at peace, to have faith in this God-blessed structure. “Peace” has become shorthand for a false tranquility that many women are told to feel so as not to be overly emotional, so as not to be disruptive, so as not to overturn the idea that women are somehow inherently gentler, more peaceful.
The Church must stop conflating peace with submission. The Church, here in the expectant waiting of Advent with breaths caught in hope of all that the coming birth might do, must comfort its people, must “speak compassionately to Jerusalem” and to every city, to every nation, to every woman that “her compulsory service is ended.” The Church must recognize that all are invited to see the glory of God, that there is neither male nor female in Christ, that the vision of the heavens is to see the valleys and the downtrodden raised up.
Peace is not silence. Peace is not acquiescence. Peace is not the status quo remaining unexamined or unchanged. Peace is the active inclusion of the full body of Christ, peace is the ability to live without fear, peace is the solid truth that equity is part of God’s vision for God’s creation. Eden was at peace when woman was included and valued; the false hierarchy of the Fall has no place in God’s heaven. Peace comes when voices are raised to challenge the culture in which the Church exists, taking on the songs of the season like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” because people of faith will not be complicit in the denigration of women’s choices. Peace comes when male leaders, both lay and ordained, empower women within their congregations to speak God’s word as pastors, liturgists, teachers, and board members. Peace comes when we challenge the sacred texts speaking of sin and “she” in one sentence; peace comes when we teach and learn that women are not inherently more sinful than men no matter how many times female pronouns are attached to wicked cities or abstract ideas. Peace is something that we make happen; it does not come on its own but requires our midwifery as the people of God actively birthing peace.
Peace cannot be a command from another who does not acknowledge the anger, the sorrow, the pain, the distance held within; peace must be a choice to be calm in our very souls because we actively decide to rest. Peace comes as shalom, a wholeness of our very selves. To the women of the Church, to the women of the world who wait in strife this second week of Advent says “peace” not as a directive but as a gift as yet undelivered. “Peace,” it offers, knowing that peace has not come just yet, that action is still required though weary hearts are worn by the howling winds of all that is not peaceful.
May you find peace because you have chosen, in the full power of your own agency and value, to receive it as the gift of a God fully aware of all that is not at peace yet. May peace, like hope, be your armor and strength.