One evening during this Advent, our small inter-faith group gathered for its monthly communal discussion. We are Jews, Christians, Muslims, and agnostics. However, one of our members was absent. He was with some Muslim students who were experiencing fear from people who were associating these students with terrorists.
We met in this atmosphere of fear, mindful of the season of Chanukah, Christmas, and Milad un Nabi (Muhammad’s birth). We remembered the first century Roman occupation and conflicts over Jerusalem up to this day. The possibility of peace in Jerusalem, or in our world seems so remote.
Out of our despair, one person lifted up a word of hope: “Then the wolf will live with the lamb… there will be neither hurt nor harm in all my holy mountain” (Isaiah 11: 6 – 10). Another remembered the promise to Zechariah: “The dawn from on high will break upon us… to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk. 1: 78 & 79).
However, another person labeled these visions “utopian,” meaning impractically idealistic, plunging us back into the doldrums. Another offered, “What we need is a strong leader in Israel and a strong leader in Palestine to unify the people.” We hear the same sentiment about leadership in our own country. Yet, perhaps it’s that longing for a strong leader that’s utopian. Ever since the ancient Hebrews asked a reluctant Samuel for a king, that dream has failed (I Samuel 8). Conflicts and injustice have continued into our time.
Then one of us remembered the vision of Jesus: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the dominion;” that is not given to a king, nor a charismatic leader, nor a strong no-nonsense-president but given to multifaceted small groups of human beings expanding and uniting into possibilities of peace and justice for all people. (Luke 12: 32) (see also Luke. 5:10).
We expressed this hope to our Muslim friends. It is “good news of great joy for all people” in these fearful times.