Peace at All Costs
Advent 2 – Narrative Lectionary 1
December 9, 2018
Grace, Mankato, MN
Wednesday evening I sat in with the adults as they watched part of the movie, “Bonhoeffer.” The film was, of course a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer the German theologian and pastor who lived prior to and during WWII. He’s probably most known for his book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” which is based on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7. As the film opens, Bonhoeffer is in America giving lectures and making appearances. He could have safely sat out the war in America, but chooses to return even though it means almost certain death. Bonhoeffer returns to Germany because not doing so would mean that his “life would be a lie.” As the film progresses, we see Bonhoeffer struggling to find his voice against the Nazis and whether or not to oppose Hitler.
Similarly, in our lesson today Esther is confronted with a choice between living a lie or risking her life. Since our reading from last week in Habakkuk, the Babylonians have succeeded in defeating the Jews and destroying Jerusalem and the temple. They have carried off into exile most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Yet, shortly after this victory they are subsequently defeated themselves by the Persians even further to the east. The Persian ruler Cyrus has allowed some Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and temple, a story told in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. But there were Jews who had made a life for themselves, as Jeremiah urged, choosing to remain in Persia. Yet, as we hear in our story, they are anything but safe in Persia and are now facing almost certain annihilation.
Esther faces a Hobson’s Choice of sorts, two equally unattractive, even deadly alternatives. This is not what she signed up for when she won the “Miss Susa Beauty Pageant” that made her the queen. As her cousin Mordecai urges her intervention, I imagine that Esther would have this internal conversation: “What could I possibly do? I’m just one person and even though I’m the queen I have no power. What good am I to my people if I’m dead? Can’t we just get along?” Even so, as Mordecai notes, perhaps she has come to the royal dignity for just such a time as this. So in the end, Esther decides that even though she can’t do everything, there is one thing she can do: seek the help of the one with whom she is the most intimately connected.
As Bonhoeffer would learn 2,400 years later, stepping into one’s time as Esther did is fraught with danger. Working for peace is dangerous because the prevailing power structures don’t want to change. All too often, though, we try to appease the power structures by caving in, but that’s a false peace and it never lasts. True peace comes when we identify what God is calling us to do in our particular moment, to do it faithfully and the best of our ability, and let the rest go. We aren’t called to everything, only to do something. True peace comes when we remember that God is slogging away, working to bring peace into his creation, even though we can’t see it.
Advent reminds us that the story of God in the world involves people responding to God’s invitation to join in God’s peaceful work. Mary won’t be asked to save the world, only bear the One who will do so. Yet even that One won’t be called to do everything either nor do it alone, for he called the 12 who called others, who called others, including you and me. It can be discouraging to look around our world and see all of the conflict, destruction and pain. It may not seem like much, but lighting the candle of peace is one small but significant step in declaring that evil will not win. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was killed by the Nazis shortly before the Allies liberated Europe, but they didn’t win. Peace is costly, but worth it, and God invites us to be peacemakers in our world. Amen.