Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Peace On Earth, Good Will To All Creatures

This holiday season is more than just about shopping, music and nutcrackers. The holiday season is about peace.

That message of peace was preached to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

As those words filled the heavens that night, the shepherds got it. They understood the need for peace because, under Roman rule, they saw the opposite of peace every day.

They longed for peace. Two thousand years later, I believe we still do.

During that time, the shepherds and pretty much everybody else in the world were under the control of the Roman Empire. The Romans claimed to bring peace to the world. They called it Pax Romana, the Peace of the Romans.

In one way, the Roman Empire did bring about a peace. They ended a civil war. They built roads. They protected their citizens. But they achieved it through war and violence. But that peace was different than the peace God promised through his Messiah.

The shepherds, who represented other misfits in society during those days, longed for that true peace. Jesus was supposed to bring about true peace, a peace through justice instead of violence.

Let me tell another story from scripture.

In the first three or four chapters of Genesis, the writer tells us about the beginning of the world and mankind. Everything was perfect peace in that garden. But soon enough man messed all that up. Adam and Eve found a tree, talked to a snake, ate some fruit and eventually got kicked out of that place of peace and justice.

Then some small but not insignificant stuff happened. In Genesis 3:23-24, the Bible says that God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden and placed a giant angel to protect the east gate. Mankind was forced to live just east of Eden.

In the next chapter of Genesis, we meet two brothers, Cain and Abel. Long story short, Cain got upset and killed his brother Abel. As punishment, God kicked Cain off the land just east of Eden. Now, Cain has to move even further east of Eden to a place called Nod.

What if moving east is really a metaphor for moving away from the peace and justice God had planned for us: a perfect peace and justice, a place of joy, a place some might call heaven? It makes me wonder if the fact that the Magi from Matthew 2 were “from the east” has any real significance besides just a designation. Maybe they were looking to the west for a King who would restore peace and justice, the kind previously only found in Eden.

Last week a lone gunman walked into an elementary school in Connecticut and opened fire. After killing 20 school children and six educators, he turned the gun on himself. In the aftermath of that senseless act of violence, we look for answers. We try to pin blame on something or someone else. We also seek change. And we look for a return to normalcy, whatever that means. But in the end, we really are all just seeking peace.

As we mourn for our brothers and sisters who are affected by this tragedy, we reopen the old debate about gun control and laws to keep things like this from ever happening again. But the truth is unless something changes inside us, no law will ever keep us safe. I’m not against banning certain weapons and high-capacity magazines to keep them out of the hands of those who would do harm, but I don’t think that is the only answer. The answer we look for is a place of peace. Or as Isaiah said as he looked forward to a day when “they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

It’s a place where we each give love, tolerance and compassion and receive it in return.

It’s a place absent of hurt, poverty, abuse, tragedy and tears.

What if we can find that peace?

What if it starts with the man in the mirror? It seems we have to find a way to love and forgive the person staring back at us that we see each day as we wipe the morning goo from our eyes. After that we can “let our gentleness be evident to all … and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7).

I believe that’s the answer. And that’s the reason for the season. May we all start making our way out west, back to a place called Eden, a place of joy, perfect peace and justice for all.

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