Coming Attractions – Week 2: Paths to Peace

In the Revised Common Lectionary the Advent readings (like all Biblical readings) are arranged in cycles. Over each three year period the entire Bible is read out loud during Sunday worship. The readings for each cycle are listed below.

Traditional Readings

Cycle A
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Cycle B
Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

Cycle C
Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

Theological Reflection

Week two of Advent is all about peace. God promises it through the Old Testament prophets. The Psalmists cry out for it. The apostles encourage the early church to live in it. John the Baptist, in all the Gospel passages chosen for this week, warns that peace’s coming might not be as calm as we’d like. All the scripture passages are also very clear about the source of that coming peace – the Messiah.

Being “about peace” also means that the context in which the prophecies, psalms, epistles, and gospel passages were written were anything but peaceful. We need peace when the world is in turmoil. We still need peace today, because most of the time our world and our private lives are in turmoil. Peace sustains us as we hold onto that hope we learned about last week that the Messiah will come.

Everyone seeking power in our world, from beauty pageant contestants to politicians, promises to work for peace, and so we give them our allegiance, and we’re disappointed when they are unable to deliver the peace they promise. Their methods—statesmanship, diplomacy, legal reform, war—are all effective only in the short term if at all. Lasting peace proves elusive.

Curiously, these passages say the Messiah will come not as a conquering dynamo but as a child. Peace comes wrapped in swaddling clothes, borne by a teenage girl, and cared for by an older, beleaguered man. We’re told that all nations will bow to this child, that paths will be made straight for him, and that peace will come in his wake. He’ll be greeted by gentle shepherds fresh from watching over their flocks, a picture of the Messiah’s care for his vulnerable sheep, Jew and Gentile alike.

This is difficult enough to believe as part of the Biblical narrative. Really? God’s plan for peace is a baby born in a barn? Entrusting peace to beauty queens seems strategic compared to God’s plan. It’s even more difficult to picture God’s plan as part of our present world. We are so far removed from the star-lit hillsides of ancient Judea. Advent is a season of remembering that the Biblical context is our context as well. Our world is just as tumultuous. We’re as in need of peace. The Christ Child, the Messiah is just as remarkable a figure for us, his coming as revolutionary, his peace as profound.

To help us reposition ourselves in a world in a world in need of such a child, and to help us envision what that coming might look like, the kind of peace he could bring, we’ve chosen the dystopian science-fiction film Children of Men as this week’s film. As I wrote in this series’ introduction, Children of Men is the most “Christmasy” of the films we chose for this series, but it is certainly an atypical Christmas film. The film is a futuristic homage to the Nativity story. Once you know that, the parallels are obvious.

As you watch, notice especially the long takes director Alfonso Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki employ in a few scenes. They accomplish a few key things. First, the long takes pressurize the narrative. They heighten the energy of the film and make the eruptions of violence more explosive, sudden, terrible, and final. The long takes also envelop you in the world of the film and don’t allow you to distance yourself from it via traditional edits. You aren’t allowed to remember that you are watching a constructed narrative. This is the world, the long takes suggest, and the audience, like the characters, can’t escape it. Children of Men’s cinematography creates the turbulent world of the film, make it real, and make the need for peace unavoidable.

Note also how the filmmakers made the story’s future world very much like the world we live in now with only a few changes. Children of Men may be set in the near future, but its world is mostly ours. Look past the “global infertility” conceit, and see the immigration issues, the isolationism, the terrorism, the rampant surveillance and militarism, and the xenophobia. See the world we live in now, and see the need for Christ and the impact of the child’s birth. If, in corporate worship this week, you find it difficult to imagine that you live in a world that needs the Messiah. pretend you live in Children of Men’s world. You pretty much do. Then worship the coming Prince of Peace.

After you watch the movie, talk with whomever you watch it with about present needs for peace both in your own lives and in the world. We’ve provided a couple of discussion prompts below if you need them.

Discussion Questions

1) Do you think the world is more or less in need of peace today that it was two thousand years ago or than it is in the film? What’s the same about those times and ours? What’s different? Where is peace most needed in our world today? What is contributing to or detracting from peace in that place?

2) What will peace look like when it comes? What did Jesus promise? What does peace look like in the film? Do we see peace there? Recall a time of peace in your life. What was that like? Where were you? What were you doing? If that peace has broken, what shattered it? What kind of peace do you need in your life today?