Second Candle of Advent: Peace
When asked what surprised him most after moving from Azerbaijan to the United States, one of our ESOL student's eyes lit up as he described the unexpected calm he felt when he heard birds singing.
"The deer and the birds!" he said while taking bites from a plate of dolma, grape leaves stuffed with rice and lamb, offered by a classmate during a holiday ESOL potluck hosted in our Learning Center. "Before, in Azerbaijan, I can't see animals come close to me." He blamed his lack of exposure to nature on the conflict with Russia and Armenia in southwestern Azerbaijan, where his hometown was located. "I could not take anything, no clothes; just my wife and my kids. I took my car and drove away. It was 1993. If we had stayed there, they would have killed us."
After the move from his war torn village to Baku, Azerbaijan, where he drove a taxi for years in exchange for just enough money to survive, he landed in the U.S. "Everything clear," he said, contrasting the neighborhood here with the littered streets he drove in Azerbaijan. He beamed when he recalled the first time he noticed wildlife wandering into back yards. "I saw different kinds of animals close to me!" he said with the look of a cab driver finally relaxing his grip on the steering wheel.
First impressions of a new country can be telling. No matter how random or trivial, they often reveal something we took for granted but lost, or something we realized was always missing in our home country, something essential to our well-being. Even the calm that’s necessary to hear birds.
When we hear the phrase "peace on earth" or the title "Prince of Peace," we might tend to think of a world without war. But the most basic meaning of the word "peace" goes deeper than that, capturing this idea of having nothing missing - being complete or whole. A person's well-being could be described by having all the pieces of life (every situation and relationship, both the internal and the external) fit together in a way that is congruent. Conversely, the more the pieces come apart, the more life becomes a war zone.
In this sense, whether or not we have experienced external world conflict, like the student from Azerbaijan, we are all accustomed to life’s incongruence - in our hearts and in our relationships - and the need for wholeness internally.
Speaking recently at the Anglican Church in North America's Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic Synod (watch the video), the Rev. Sam Ferguson made the observation that a cry for peace and wholeness are in fact at the core of the debate on gender dysphoria, too. "What the gender movement, the gender revolution, was offering was [false] hope," he said, summarizing the movement’s misleading promise. "The gender movement is saying, “You have dysphoria, you want euphoria, and I’m going to take you on a path to get it.”
Ferguson challenged Christians to remember our common brokenness, and that ours is the only story that can truly make sense out of dysphoria and offer lasting peace:
"Who of us can’t relate to feeling bad, to having dysphoria, and wanting to feel better or feel peace or euphoria? That’s at the very heart of the Christian story, moving from being a wreck to moving to wholeness, completeness, and peace ... The word Dysphoria means a profound state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction about life. It’s the opposite of euphoria. Dysphoria is incongruence … [or] tension between how we feel on the inside and life on the outside ... To be human is to 'groan' with a feeling of dysphoria (Romans 8) … The Bible gives us a better explanation for dysphoria … and a better picture of transformation.”
As we reflect on Advent in an Age of Dysphoria, let's remember that we have the only true promise of peace and wholeness, “not as the world gives” (John 14:27). We know the One who not only conquered the world (John 16:33) but gives us accurate first impressions of what the Kingdom to come looks like (John 14:9). Jesus’ birth announced the bringing-together of everything broken and miscellaneous - the beginning of a reign of wholeness without end. Soon, we will be like Him and everything we have been missing will be realized in full.