“Hope in Peace” (December 6, 2020)
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
Luke 1: 39-56; Matthew 5: 9
“Hope in Peace”
We continue today our series looking at the hope that we find in Advent by looking at the four themes of Advent: hope itself in week one, this week peace, then joy and love, and then will finally turn to the hope that we find in Christ. And in order to work with this, we need to look today at what is peace, biblically speaking. And then at the end we’ll look for how we find hope in peace, or how peace brings our hope.
So the first question we have is what is peace? What is peace, really? In Jesus‘s time the world was under something called Pax Romana or “the peace of Rome.” And the basic idea was that Rome had brought peace; through war, yes, but Rome had brought peace. Now everything was under Rome, or at least the civilized world was under Rome, so there wasn’t the constant wars that had plagued the world for generations. Everyone was under Rome, so there was peace. And Rome had brought it to the world through its military. Is that the peace that God is talking about? Is that biblical peace? It certainly is a peace that we seem to strive for in our world.
Of course, the answer is no. That’s not a Biblical concept of peace, that is oppression. It is keeping people under the boot of the strongest person in the room. We can see that it’s not peace because there’s constant insurrection. If you look in Roman history there was constant insurrection. We just had a Civil War throughout the Roman empire less than 100 years earlier, which put Caesar in charge. Jesus is accused of inciting insurrection, and when he’s before Pilate, Pilate offers to trade Jesus for Barabas, who was in prison for inciting insurrection. And the jewish people would rebel and be put down twice in the hundred years after Christ’s death and resurrection. All around the Roman empire we have these kinds of little insurrections. So yes, everyone’s under one thing and we don’t have Kings rising against Kings anymore. But we still have conflict, we still have hurt, we still have pain; it just looks a little different. That’s not biblical peace, so what is?
What are we even striving for when we say peace? I think we tend to think first about national peace, societal peace. And we think mostly about this idea that Pax Romana was offering: that there would be no war. We pray often for peace in the Middle East, but there hasn’t been a war in the Middle East for decades at least since 1991 since there was an official war in the Middle East. There’s been peace in the Middle East for 30 years right? Of course not. There’s conflict all over. This idea of peace isn’t just merely the absence of war, obviously not, because we still long for peace even without war. It is in the absence of conflict, at least. So maybe we’re getting a little closer to the definition. Or is it something more, something deeper still?
In the Bible we have this concept of shalom, of peace. It is a greeting that is offered by the Jewish people to each other. Shalom means “peace.” This is the idea that we use each worship service as we offer the peace of Christ to each other, we’re offering shalom, we’re greeting each other in this traditional way. It’s something more than just a social peace; it can be personal as well. So I wanna look at what peace means personally as well as socially in the kingdom of God.
Personally, a shalom peace means a sense of being at peace. And we understand, I think, what being at peace means even if we can’t quite describe it. We understand what it means but I’m gonna try at least to give some words to it. In my experience, being at peace is a sense of being at ease. It is living a life that is stress-free, or at the very least extremely low stress. We don’t have tensions or things hanging over our head. We have security. We have physical security, and we have security otherwise; maybe financially, maybe relationally. We have no general threat to our beings. And that’s not just from the outside, there’s no threat from the inside either. That is a personal peace to me.
But it’s not just personal in the Bible. The Bible is calling for a societal peace as well. And societal peace means there is no war, yes, it means no one‘s going off to fight other people. But it also means peace within the society; not just from our enemies, but within ourselves as well. It means there’s no feelings of injustice in the society, that everyone understands that justice is being done for all. It means there’s no conflict among the people. There's no unrest among the people. I think we all can understand that that’s not happening in our country right now. We do not have societal peace, and many of us don’t have a personal peace either.
This piece is often achieved, in the Bible at least, when the least are cared for. The Bible often uses the phrase “justice for the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant,” but in reality that’s kind of just shorthand for “the least of these,” as in Matthew 25. If we’re looking for a Biblical, gospel peace, this is what we’re talking about: that justice is being done for all. And typically when we focus on doing it for the least it trickles up. And as I look at history, what I see is that oftentimes societal peace precedes personal peace. And we have to have peace within a society for an extended period of time before people start to feel safe.
This is what a biblical, gospel peace looks like. And we see this longing for this idea in the Scripture which was read today; what is called the Magnificat. And here we see that Mary has just discovered that she’s pregnant by the Holy Spirit. She’s an unwed teenager, and she’s pregnant. That’s problematic, especially then.So she runs off to be with her cousin in another town. But, as she discovers through the angel and confirmed when she arrives, Elizabeth is also pregnant despite the fact that she’s considered to be too old by society to be pregnant. Here we have these two women who should not be pregnant, and yet they are. Both are visited by an angel promising this kind of peace is on its way. And what we see is that Mary is greeted by Elizabeth, is greeted by Elizabeth’s baby in the womb. And Mary sings this song. And I want you to hear what this song is talking about again, as it talks about the peace of God that’s being brought into the world, and how that is happening. Versus 51-53. “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
This is throughout Scripture. This is just one spot where words like that are there. Another is Hannah‘s song as she birth Samuel, the prophet that would anoint king David; which a lot of people compare this song to. This is a very Biblical idea of what peace looks like. And it is typically on the lips of the poor, yes, because they are not at peace, they long for peace in their hearts and peace in their world, and they can see the problems that are plaguing them. And we see often that God hears the cry of the oppressed, the poor, the marginalized. In Old Testament terms, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant. But I believe that means that God desires a world where no one is in need and no one has too much. Now, does that mean that everyone has the same? No, of course not. But I’m reminded of the parable of the rich fool, who has a rich abundant harvest, and he fills up his barn with so much more. And he says “I'll tear down my barn or build a bigger barn so I can keep it all.” And Jesus says that God comes and his life will be demanded that night. The idea behind the parable is to fill your barn, but if God has given you more than your barn can hold, that's not for you to keep. God is supplying this world with abundance, and it’s our job to ensure that the excess gets where it needs to get.
And I think that’s how we are called to be peacemakers. In short, do not build bigger barns, but be sure that our excess beyond what we need is in the hands of those who are in need. And there’s plenty of ways that that happens; and in order to figure out what is the best way to make that happen in your specific moment typically requires a robust and active prayer life. But a good rule of thumb is to take the action that is in front of you which promotes the most future harmony, even if that means it hurts you in that moment. What is the action that will lead us to the most societal and personal peace in the future, even if it hurts you in the moment. True peacemaking is hard, it isn’t comfortable, but it is what we are called to do.
One thing that I recognize is that we live in a world that is so dominated by the idea of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Jesus rejected that. He said to turn the other cheek. It’s so profound. There’s only two sure ways to end a fight: knock the other guy out, or take the final punch. That’s it. You either accept their last word, their last punch, and say I’m not gonna retaliate, I’m going to turn the other cheek; or you have to go until one of you is unconditionally surrendering.
If you wanna see what that looks like, taking the final punch in order to bring about a more peaceful world, take a look at Elizabeth here. In that society a woman was judged by how many children she could produce for her husband. And she’s produced none. And there’s no doubt that over the last few years, certainly probably the last 10 or 15 years, the whispers had started to happen around her. She understands what it’s like to be publicly shamed. And here sits her cousin that’s in the opposite situation, but still a shameful one: unwed woman, so young, pregnant. By societal understanding Elizabeth should shame Mary. She should turn her away from the door and not allow her into the house. Yet she doesn’t. She stops the cycle of abuse, she stops the cycle of shame, she does not spread the hurt. She takes the final punch from society, and ensures that she is not the one to pass it on to Mary. She’s a peacemaker in Mary’s personal peace.
This, I think, is where we find our hope in peace. We long for peace. We long to find someplace where we won’t face the hurt the world can provide. Peace is my most common prayer, in some form another. Whether I’m praying for comfort for someone who’s going through a hard time, or grieving a recent loss; or I’m praying for some kind of a social peace, such as praying for peace in the unrest earliest earlier this year, or for peace in the natural disasters earlier this year, or for peace in the Middle East like we did last week. Peace, personal or societal, is my most common prayer. It is the thing we long for the most. We desire it because we rest, truly rest, only when we are at peace.
In Jesus, in the child born at Christmas, God is offering peace. The kingdom that Christ is ushering in as we speak through his church, that Kingdom promises peace. God is offering peace. And that is the most hopeful thing I think God can offer, at least to me. To me, peace is even more important than joy. It is even more important than love. Arguably, joy and love require peace. And were told the peacemakers will be called the children of God, and that is the centerpiece of our theology. That is what we want, what we’re striving for: to be a co-heir with Christ. God’s Peace will come through his kingdom, announced by the baby boy we’re anticipating, and continued through our actions as His Church. Go in peace, and be peacemakers in the world this week. Amen.