This reading for the second Sunday of Advent appears in While Bethlehem Sleeps: A Poetic Advent Devotional.
Often our peace of mind is interrupted. Maybe a recent job loss causes discouragement. Perhaps decisions cause worry. Or, as this story shared by Charles Swindoll illustrates, we encounter irritation through the actions—and inactions—of others.
A man riding a bus was greatly disturbed at a young boy who was running up and down the aisle of the bus screaming and laughing at the top of his lungs, while the young boy’s dad just sat idly by. The man could not believe that someone would be so rude and inconsiderate of the other people around him. He then noticed other unflattering things about the man. His hair was unkempt, so he was probably homeless, and his eyes were bloodshot, so he had to be an alcoholic. Finally, not able to take any more of the child, this man went and approached the dad and demanded that he get control of his young son.
If we stop the story there, we sense the impending conflict. We may understand the man’s consternation as he strides toward who he believes to be a disengaged, unfit parent.We may cringe for the father who is reprimanded by a stranger for his son’s belligerence. Or the child might be our greatest concern depending on our own parenting styles or our own children’s personalities. Whether we want to admit it or not, we have taken a side in this situation based on our own perspectives. Here, then, is the reason to keep reading.
The dad seeming to be shaken from a trance apologized to the man and told him that the boy’s mom, his wife, had just died at the hospital after struggling all night, and he was trying to think of a way to break the news to the boy.[i]
Suddenly, our feelings jerk back and forth as if someone pulled the stop request cord on the bus. Depending on our personal experiences, we may be ashamed or empathetic or both. As raw grief scars this father’s heart, he contemplates how to explain this tragic loss to his son. At the worst moment of their lives, a stranger demands an apology for his choice to be annoyed. The story moves on in our minds. We claim our responses—to explaining death, to expressing irritation, to experiencing sorrow—would be different. Instead, we need to pull the stop request cord. We must hear the whole story. Only then can we extend essential peace to others during this Advent season.