Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Do You Mean, "Peace?"

           A few weeks ago the big multi-colored light show went up in Cobourg’s Victoria Park, a few blocks from where I live. The park is full of snowmen and Santas and sleighs. I have to admit, too, that the whole thing is quite pretty.

            Of course, the lightshow makes no mention of Jesus. As far as the Cobourg goes, there isn’t any room for Jesus in the park. I have to admit, even though I understand that secular government has to make reasonable accommodations for those of other or no faith, I am a bit grumpy about it. Though it brings a smile to my face to see how St. Peter’s church, across the street, responded to the town’s secular light show with its own tiny, perfect, subversive little manger scene on the front lawn.

            But before we blame the town of Cobourg too much, perhaps the Christians among us ought to ask whether or not we’re guilty of the same thing. We often water down the meaning of Christmas too. Take, for example, how we debase the word “peace.”

            Let me illustrate. So far I have received nine Christmas cards. Three mention peace. The first one says, on the front, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth Peace.” On the inside it adds, “May the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Just in my heart? So what happened to peace on earth?

            The second card has a pretty picture of a cute country church with a horse and sleigh on the cover. Inside, it says, “May your Christmas be filled with the gifts of joy and peace.” This peace is nothing but a romantic nod in the direction of nineteenth-century Christmases past.

            The third card says, “Winter Wishes,” and inside, “wishing you the quiet beauty of a peaceful holiday.” That’s it. Here peace is nothing more than a warm fuzzy for my heart.

            None of these cards gets close to describing something like Biblical peace. Isaiah says that the Prince of Peace is working for a time when every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be fuel for the fire. Biblical peace encompasses an end of all the world’s wars. The Biblical idea of peace is shalom, where each one of us is in right relationship with God and every single one of our neighbors all around the world, from Canada to Palestine and North Korea and beyond.

            And Christians are supposed to be ambassadors of that peace, today—ambassadors of reconciliation, says the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5. We are called not merely to speak just to people’s hearts or hopes for a quiet, tranquil dose of Christmas cheer, but we are called to be God’s ambassadors to speak to the powers of this world.

            A daunting task. But, if nothing else, Christianity is an invitation to live large. God invites us all to be part of a cosmic peace process. Question our government’s choice to fight offensive wars rather than serve as peace-keepers. Reject the need for bloated military spending on ever more high-tech fighters that can only serve the military needs of our neighbors when our citizens are freezing in the dark in Attawapiskat. Condemn the sale of armaments to despotic regimes. Write politicians. Support peace organizations like Amnesty International and Doctor’s Without Borders. When you pray for healing for Aunt Sally’s gall bladder, don’t dare to forget to pray for an end to heavy losses of civilian life in places like Afghanistan and Syria in the same breath.

            My friend Mark VanderVennen recently wrote a book about peace entitled Hope in Troubled Time. Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner from South Africa, wrote the foreword. In it, he said, "peace is not a goal to be achieved but a way of life to be lived."

            The bottom line is this. Let’s not debase or water down the peace language of Christmas. As much as Jesus cares for our souls and wants us to feel warm fuzzies, what he actually wants is for our feet to follow his in the struggle for world peace. 

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