EDITOR’S NOTE: The following excerpt, by Michael T. McRay, is from the brand new book Keep Watch with Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers, which features several Red Letter Christian writers.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” – Matthew 24:42
When I worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, one of our primary responsibilities was being present for confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians. We needed to film and document all acts of aggression, hoping that international eyes looking might deter violence.
We needed to keep watch.
For those of us in the United States, the last few years have particularly highlighted the deep divisions scarring our country. Many of us yearn for a better world, and we wonder how long we can wait.
Advent is all about waiting. It is about patience, expectation, and longing. We wait in hope for the arrival of something better than what we have now. This is a joyful hope.
But Advent is about ache too, because longing and waiting are also painful experiences. For our exiled friends in prison longing for freedom, for our oppressed brothers and sisters waiting for justice, for our loved ones on the streets dreaming of a warm home, waiting is agony.
Both Advent and peacemaking are experiences of hope, and hope is the stuff of survival. It’s little wonder people who live in places of suffering are often filled with great hope and joy. As one Palestinian friend said to me, “What choice do we have but to hope? The alternative is death.”
We hope that something more beautiful is coming because we must, because the alternative is unbearable. This work of hope is a muscular work, filled with sorrow, faith, perseverance, and resilience.
In my study, teaching, and practice of peacebuilding, I’ve learned that the work of peace is the work of preparation. We wait, yes, but we have much to do while we wait. My best friend Jeannie Alexander is waiting for her beloved to be freed from the cage of prison. Year after year, she waits. But part of her waiting is working to make better laws so he can return home sooner. The waiting of Advent, like the waiting of peacemaking, is an active waiting. As the African proverb says, “When you pray, move your feet.”
We watch, we wait, we work.
Part of the truth of our world is that it is broken and breaking more every day. But that is only part of the truth. Our world is also a place of beauty, love, and unfathomable generosity. There is kindness; there is laughter; there is healing. In a conversation with Bill Moyers, Thomas Cahill once said, “I have come to the conclusion that there are really only two movements in the world: one is kindness and the other is cruelty.”
I want to be part of the movement toward kindness, one where we might begin speaking to and about one another with something like love. I do believe that a kinder world is on the way. I believe it because I must, and I will watch for it, with eyes open and feet moving.
Will you keep watch with me?
Excerpted from Keep Watch with Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers, by Claire Brown and Michael T. McRay (Abingdon Press, 2019). All rights reserved. Used with permission. AbingdonPress.com