“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way — a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Mark 1:2-3)
On the day my son was baptized, a mass murder was occurring about half an hour away. In fact, just moments after the water touched his head, the estranged son-in-law of two members of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, entered the church and shot 48 people, killing 26, including an unborn baby and eight children.
I sat at home that afternoon, my own children peacefully napping while the news feeds exploded with horror after horror, and in that chilling juxtaposition wrote these words: “I can imagine God in my chaos … but what about THAT chaos? What about the chaos of violence and tragedy?”
Five years later, my kids joyfully skipped into their peaceful, beloved school, unaware that the day before a gunman had forever destroyed the peace of a school an hour away in Uvalde.
Again I found myself asking trembling, turbulent questions. Was peace the illusion of childlike ignorance — naps and simply not knowing? Would we ever know peace in this violent world, where everyone must either know hatred, fear, or grief?
Advent affirms that we are right to wonder. It sighs, “not yet,” in reply. Advent reminds us that the Prince of Peace is coming to a wounded, fearful people, but he is not here yet. Peace is still twisted and detoured by gun violence and the greed and idolatry facilitating it. The cries of “no justice, no peace” grow hoarse and ragged. So as we wait for the day every tear is wiped away, we have to ask, like I did on the day my son was baptized: What does it mean to be a people of God, who wait with trembling hands and broken hearts?
The Prince of Peace may not be here yet, but the prophets are. As Isaiah and John the Baptist tell us, our job in Advent is to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.” When violence charts a twisted path through our laws and “rights,” we have not yet prepared the Way of the Lord.
We have to straighten the crooked path of gun violence. While we wait for healing for the wounded, we stop walking that treacherous road. While we bring our fears to a God who cares, we shine light in the darkness. While we pray for an end to the violence in our hearts, we work to end the violence in our midst.
Bekah McNeel is a freelance journalist living in San Antonio, Texas. She reports on education, immigration, and religion. She is the author of Bringing Up Kids When Church Lets You Down: A Guide for Parents Questioning Their Faith from Eerdmans. She can be found on Twitter at @BekahMcneel and on her blog at bekahmcneel.com.
NOTE: This is part of our Unsettling Advent devotionals running Nov. 27-Dec. 24. You can subscribe for free to receive them each morning in your inbox.