Advent and Christmas are about the confrontation of ideals and reality; that God (the ideal) sent Jesus Christ to enter our real and sin-filled world. Likewise, in this Advent and Christmas season, ideals (peace, love, reconciliation, and grace) confront harsh realities (homelessness, hunger, illegal drug use, and an extension of armed conflict in the Persian Gulf).
As to the Middle East, I am in the minority among current leadership of both denominations of which my congregation is a part -- the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church. I do proclaim God's call for us to be peacemakers in a world "gone mad." But often there are realities which demand harsh answers. To colleagues who berate my role in the Air Force Reserve chaplaincy (and in the process would deny pastoral care to the members of our Armed Forces), I must now question where they would "draw the line."
To fight for "cheap oil" would be insane. To prevent a man who kills his own citizens with poison gas from occupying a neighboring nation or procuring and using nuclear weapons is sane. (Oh, how we hate shades. To not advocate pacifism does not mean a desire to rush headlong into war.)
I am an idealist (hence my vocation). I wish no nation owned nuclear weapons. I wish we had not felt compelled to use them against Japan. Our nation errs, but does that mean we must consider all our motives impure? I condemn unfettered armed sales to Middle East nations where today's allies are tomorrow's enemies. I hope our troops now in the Middle East can return alive and well. I am also a realist, and that suggests a hard look at how the post Cold War world will survive challenges to peace by nations like Iraq.
The God who entered our real world in Jesus Christ knows our anguish, dilemma and struggle. May God help us all.
REV. RALPH S. ENGLISH
Senior Pastor, United Church of Warsaw