Peace & Accepting: A Second Mormon Advent Homily
Chapter 14 and Verse 27 of the Gospel of John says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
I’ve loved this verse (and much of the surrounding sermon) for years, and have been captivated by the idea of Jesus giving us peace, “not as the world giveth”. I’ve been thinking about this again as today is the Second Advent Sunday and we’re thinking about Peace and Accepting. What does it mean for Jesus to give his peace unto us but “not as the world giveth”? What is the peace of Jesus, that must be distinguished from the peace of the world? How do we keep this sense of peace with us during this advent season and throughout the year?
The Mormon Saint that Cece and I connect with this week of Advent is Helmuth Günther Guddat Hübener, born 8 January 1925 and executed by the Nazi Regime on 27 October 1942, at a mere 17 years old. It may seem odd to associate a teenager who lived in Nazi Germany and then was murdered by that regime with Peace and Accepting, but I think that Hübener’s story illustrates the hard truths of Peace-making, which I’ve come to believe are essential to the Peace that Jesus gives us, or at least offers to us.
Hübener was a Boy Scout until the Boy Scouts were disbanded and he was conscripted to join The Hitler Youth. After Kristallnacht, he left The Hitler Youth and eventually found a way to listen to a BBC Radio station—forbidden by the Nazi government—which he would listen to on an old radio. Hübener would then distill these radio reports about the truth of the war, as well as general anti-war and anti-Nazi materials, as pamphlets and leaflets typed on his LDS Branch typewriter, which he kept at home to fulfill his calling.
Hübener was arrested in February 1942 and held prisoner until August, when he was tried as an adult by the Special People’s Court, convicted, and sentenced to death. Just after his arrest, he was excommunicated by his Branch president, a supporter of the Nazi party. There was no disciplinary council, nor were any other leaders consulted. Hübener was deserted by both his government and his local Church leaders.
After Hübener’s sentence was read, he shouted at the judges of the Special People’s Court:
“You have sentenced me to death for telling the truth. My time is now — but your time will come!”
Hübener worked closely with two friends from his local branch and another friend in his work distributing pamphlets and leaflets. The other two Mormons were arrested with him and sentenced to five and ten years in prison, respectively.
One recorded that the hardest thing he’d ever done “was say goodbye to his friend Helmuth. He told Helmuth he would see him again and hugged him. With tears in his eyes, Helmuth said, ‘I hope you have a better life and a better Germany.’ Then he cried.”
As Hübener awaited his execution, he wrote the following letter:
I am very grateful to my Heavenly Father that my miserable life will come to an end tonight — I could not bear it any longer anyway. My Father in Heaven knows that I have done nothing wrong. I am just sorry that I had to break the Word of Wisdom at my last hour. I know that God lives and He will be the Just Judge in this matter. I look forward to seeing you in a better world!
Your friend and brother in the Gospel,
[Ich bin meinem himmlischen Vater sehr dankbar, daß heute Abend dieses qualvolle Leben zu Ende geht, ich könnte es auch nicht länger ertragen. Mein Vater im Himmel weiß, daß ich nichts Unrechtes getan habe, es tut mir nur leid, daß ich in meiner letzten Stunde noch das Gebot der Weisheit brechen mußte. Ich weiß, daß Gott lebt, und Er wird der gerechte Richter über diese Sache sein. Auf ein frohes Wiedersehen in einer besseren Welt!
Ihr Freund und Bruder im Evangelium
This exchange reminds me of a scene in A Hidden Life (2019), one of my favorite films, also about resistance to Nazi Germany:
Judge: Do you judge me?
Franz Jägerstätter: I don’t judge you. I’m not saying ‘he’s wicked; I am right.’ I don't know everything. A man may do wrong, and he can't get out of it to make his life clear. Maybe he'd like to go back, but he can't. But I have this feeling inside me, that I can't do what I believe is wrong.
Judge Lueben: Do you have a right to do this?
Franz: Do I have a right not to?
I am in awe of the conviction that Franz and Helmuth show in these passages and in their lives. I hope that I can live such a life.
But why point to these examples as lives of Peace and Accepting?
For me, Hübener is committed to Peace-making, distinct from Peace-keeping. He worked to bring about a better world, through whatever small means were at his disposal. And he was only 17! Younger during the bulk of his actual work, since he was arrested a month or so after his 17th birthday.
I’m reminded of much of the work of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. In a sermon he delivered on his last Christmas, he said:
“We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality…. but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.”
This is part of what I find compelling about both Franz and Helmuth—they recognized that peace-making must be rooted in peaceful means AND that peaceful means of confronting power still involves a confrontation and a risk. They accepted that risk and their fate.
Helmuth continued to profess his innocence, but uses that innocence to remind his murderers of the blood on their hands.
I hope to never need to do the hard, nigh-impossible work that Helmuth and Franz were involved in. But, I know that I look to them both for inspiration to live a life of Peace-making, that embraces the gift of Jesus’ Peace, even when it may (and in some sense must) cost us our lives.
I’m not suggesting that we all need to become political criminals protesting the inhumanity and barbarity of our current political leaders, though I am convinced that I must find more ways to make Peace in the world around me. Part of why I write is to make Peace—to challenge evil or harmful ‘powers’ and to provide connection and comfort for people seeking it.
Part of what this Peace-making and Accepting must look like is to relieve ourselves of hate and to accept and deal with the pain that we all feel. As James Baldwin wrote in Notes of a Native Son:
“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”
I don’t know how to fully help others let go of their hate, except perhaps to Love and Accept them (as Luke does his father Darth Vader), but I believe that this work is God’s work. And I feel that I may have some role to play in that work, however small it may be.
I don’t know if I could do what Helmuth or Franz did, if I have the courage and strength to live my convictions accepting whatever fate the world gave me. But I hope I could. I hope I can.
I don’t know if I want Jesus’ Peace—I’m pretty interested at the moment in some easier, less demanding worldly Peace given the chaos and turmoil that has been 2020 in many respects (and always characterizes finals season in a much more localized way). But I hope that I can Accept the gift of Jesus’ Peace, that I can find what Jesus calls me to do in the world to make Peace, to do good.
I hope that I can find the strength to make that Peace and I hope that you—brother, sister, sibling, friend—may join me.
Footnote  From this blog post: https://bycommonconsent.com/2014/10/27/helmuth-hubener-on-the-day-of-his-execution/
Further References and Reading