“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14)
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:68,69,78,79)
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
“Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36 & many other places)
… And I could go on!
Peace is a big deal in the bible. Among the most common phrases used by Jesus (and others), “Peace be with you” is right up there. God is often called the “God of Peace”. And Peter even says that the God was “preaching peace by Jesus Christ” (in Acts 10:36).
Peace seems like a pretty serious thing to God.
It seems to be at the centre of what he “has come/is coming/will come” to bring.
What is peace? Is it the opposite of war? The absence of conflict? Is it the opposite of division? Disagreements or arguments? The removal of dividing tribal lines?
Yes … and …
Peace is all these things and more.
Peace includes the absence of all these things, but the Christian concept of “peace” doesn’t simply stay at this shallow “absence” level; it adds the “presence” of something.
Peace is more than simply the absence of conflict; peace is the presence of the goodness of God in our live.
It is fullness … complete-ness … that sense that this is the way things are supposed to be.
As with hope (see last week), peace starts elsewhere. It starts with the fact that things are not quite right. There is something “off” with the way we live our lives. There are things we wish we could do and can’t manage to do them. There are things we don’t want to do and yet keep doing.
(Like saying that one final comment to your wife that you know is going to light the fuse on a bomb, but yet you say it anyway. You don’t want to, but yet you do.)
Something is off because although we wish for peace, we do not naturally lean toward peace. Francis Spufford put it this way;
“Peace is not the state of being we return to, like water running downhill, whenever there’s nothing external to perturb us. Peace between people is an achievement, a state of affairs we put together effortfully in the face of competing interests, and primate dominance dynamics, and our evolved tendency to cease our sympathies at the boundaries of our tribe. Peace within people is made difficult to say the least by the way that we tend to have an actual, you know, emotional life going on, rather than an empty space between our ears with a shaft of dusty sunlight in it, and a lone moth flittering round and round. Peace is not the norm; peace is rare …” (Unapologetic)
If our lives were a ruler, they are flawed; they don’t make a straight line.
If society was supposed to be a perfect circle, it has somehow rearranged itself into a strange shape that looks very different. The curves aren’t smooth, the proportions are all off.
Someone keeps screwing with the hinge of our drafting compass and the results aren’t pretty.
Christianity makes the claim that one of the reasons God came was to correct this. To straighten our rulers. To firmly hold the compass so it draws a perfect circle.
The terms Christians use to describe this are reconciliation and restoration*, but to say it more simply it means “to put things back the way they should be”.
This system reset is what we mean by peace. It makes a permanent adjustment to state of our lives, society and entire natural world.
What was broken has been fixed. What was lost is found. What was spiralling toward disorder is given a place, a function and a purpose.
Where once there was only fear, peace lives.
Now, if you’re like me, this is all sounding completely impractical and not at all what your life looks like. Rarely for a moment do I feel anything that amounts to what I have described above.
And that’s where peace becomes more intimately connected to hope. At advent, we remember that God has come, keeps coming and will come again. When we pause to reflect and remember this, we can begin to see how he keeps coming in our daily lives.
And each time he comes, he brings peace … and invites us to bring this peace to others around us as well (and this is where it gets practical).
We are invited to be people who bring peace everywhere we go. We can be the people who look to minimize conflict, encourage people to pursue life-giving activities, bring a calm, caring voice to a conversation or reflect the love and grace of God to the world around us.
It’s not always clear how to do this, but we can risk the attempt. “His [God’s] hands are our hands now, the only hands he’s got.”
It will not be easy or come naturally, but with every step we make in this direction, we are blessed “peacemakers” who will be called the “children of God”.
*(we’ll leave “salvation” out of the conversation for now because it is a loaded term)