Peace: a major theme of every religion. Yet the last year or so has seen an increasing tension between religious groups perhaps unparalleled in centuries. Suspicion on the basis of religious belief has reached epidemic proportions. The use of violence to make a religious point – not a modern phenomenon – seems at marked and in stark contrast to the search for peace which seems at the core of Islam, Judaism, and the Christian faith. The rise of fear, rooted in suspicion of one religious group in particular, and in whose eyes that suspicion is promoted by another, has been palpable. Threats, warnings and counter-threats are at the core of political debate.
And so we come to Christmas – the celebration of the birth of the one known to christians as the Prince of Peace. Two thousand years later and that peace seems ever more elusive, ever more distant. Have we missed something?
The birth of Jesus, as an expression of God’s character, needs closer attention than ever before. If this event is central to the purposes of God not only for His purpose but for this world as a whole, we need to contemplate its implications. The way in which God chooses to express Himself is as important as the ascriptions given to the child.
Think about it for a moment… if you were God, how would you choose to enter the world and shape its purposes? Conventional political wisdom would involve a grand entrance in the most intimidating of performances. People would tremble. Nations would immediately acknowledge. Media coverage would be saturated.
That God would choose to enter this world in the most vulnerable and dependant form, and then rely on shepherds (the lowest of all on the social scale) and foreigners (who weren’t of the same religious tradition) to spread the news, seems to be either poorly orchestrated, or an important statement.
At Christmas, the Prince of Peace does not come to domination, but to the margins. He does not come in power, but absolute weakness. Peace is born from the ground up, imposed not by decree, but by presence. There is something awesome about all this, but not in a way which intimidates. It is inviting, beckoning, calling us to express ourselves in a life of peace, rather than to hear a sermon or a command.
Peace was born at Christmas, in a way which calls us to be partakers and proponents. Now more than ever, we need not only to contemplate the Christmas story, but to consider and live its implications.
December 22, 2002