`The angels declared it: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE, goodwill toward all people.”
“Peace“ defies easy definition because it is is a multi-faceted concept woven through the scriptures from beginning to end. When God finished creation, God saw that that everything God had created was very good, and this ecosystem of perfect goodness for all creation is God’s vision and reference point for all peace. Later in the Bible, this concept of perfect peace will have it’s own word: SHALOM, which is defined as much more than simply the absence of conflict. Instead, it could be described as a state of the whole world in which “all is right” - all humans, flora, and fauna, together in perfect harmony.
This vision for Shalom could be depressing because its so dissonant to reality. But one of the great gifts of the gospel is that a measure of this peace begins the moment we believe, because by believing, three things happen:
We align our Vision with God’s vision for peace -
God’s vision for peace, it turns out, is the key to compassion, for compassion literally means ‘to suffer with’ and the deeper we go into God’s vision for peace, the more attuned we become to the suffering, oppression, cruelty, both endured by others and inflicted by others. We will ‘weep with those who weep’ and feel the pains felt by immigrants fleeing death squads, and women stuck in sexual slavery. We’re invited to go deeper and deeper into God’s vision for peace, which is an ecosystem of abundance and interdependency, almost the exact opposite of “I’ve got my piece of comfort and security - so forget about the rest.” Nope. The forests. The widow. The salmon. The orphan. The whale. The immigrant. I doubt you’ll be moved on all fronts all the time - it would be too much. But know this: God‘s vision for peace is vast. All. Living. Things.
Align with that vision and I promise you that over time it will change your shopping habits, your eating habits, your view of systemic sins like racism and environmental destruction, and more.
But know this too. You can be super religious (as in very ‘churchy’ or ‘in the ministry’ or ‘in-demand speaker’) and miss ‘the things which make for peace.’ While they’re busy arguing the deity/humanity of Christ, or whether inerrancy is a better word than authority, or whether that person of that political or doctrinal party, has lost their faith - those who miss it also carry judgements of others, blindness to immense suffering, and a willingness to cast people out who don’t line up perfectly with their vesion of faith. Jesus' complaint in Luke 19:42 that the religious people rejected ‘the things which make for peace’ should send shivers down the spines of people like me (a religious professional who knows lots of words, but is at risk of equating that knowing with wisdom). I don’t want to be a religious professional who‘s missed the point. God knows the world, and church history, are full of them. What’s needed are peacemakers!
We activate the power of the Prince of Peace
The Prince is named Jesus, and it’s his life, expressed through union with ours, that is able to express peace through each of us uniquely. Some will work to protect the trees. Others to end racism. Others to address systemic economic issues that are still trapping billions in poverty. Others will make amazing music. Peacemakers won’t be dismissive of issues ‘not on their table,’ but they’ll know that they have a part to play, and they’ll play it to the full. (Remember that great word in Ecclesiastes? “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might!”) When we do become peacemakers, it will look a thousand different ways in a thousand different people, but will be peace nevertheless.
We endure the dissonance as people of hope
Like the old carol, written during the civil war about the glad tidings of peace on earth,
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men
2020 was a #^$*&! storm of ‘non-peace’. The politics of lies, the George Floyd tape, the fires and hurricanes, the pandemic and all the ensuing wars over which scientists to believe, plus ’mask wars,’ not to mention still more violence related to race, and loss of businesses, and an election unlike any other - and that’s just the USA.
“There is no peace on earth I said...” Just like 150 years ago when the carol was written.
It’s enough to make a cynic out of you.
Unless you believe the end of the story....
Which I do. Back in the beginning we’re told that darkness brooded over the face of the deep, which is God’s way of saying the world, apart from God’s intervention, is hopeless. We might enjoy a moment or season of grace and joy, and a few may cherish long walks the beach, or powder runs, but look around. It’s a mess for most - and if the 20th century taught us anything, it’s that so-called ‘peace’ never lasts.
In that beginning story though, darkness was over the face of the deep (picture yourself sinking in the middle of the Pacific ocean, halfway between Hawaii and Alaska, without a boat, a hope, or a prayer - that’s the world without God’s intervention.
The way this works, though, is that God intervenes. “The spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep,” which means God, like a mother hen caring for her chicks, was hovering. “YOU ARE NOT ALONE!! EVER!“
It doesn’t end there, though. God’s not simply walking with us through valleys of chaos, though that’s a great gift by itself. The next word is everything: Let there be light!
When God spoke that word, the trajectory of the universe changed completely - from fear, lust, violence, chaos, and death — to courage, love, peace, order, and life. The story’s not over, so the darkness is still easy to find, but because of God’s intervention, so are ‘shards of light’, which are moments of justice, mercy, kindness, healing, truth telling, and hospitality. We’ve seen it this week on the news when truth is told by politicians. We see it when confession and forgiveness happens. We see it when someone moves towards freedom from addiction. We see it in lots of places if we’re looking. Are you?
My prayer for 2021 is that God’s shalom would take root in my heart and blossom through me into my family, my neighborhood, my church, our city, and our world. I hope you’ll join me.
God is not dead, nor does he sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will toward men
That’s where history is heading, friend. Join me in writing God’s story of hope on the pages of 2021