Sunday, December 16, 2007

Of a Peace

Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace to all people,
On whom his favor rests.

Hiroo Onuda was a lieutenant in the Japanese army during WWII. In 1944 he was sent on a secret mission to one of the Philippine Islands. His orders were to conduct guerrilla attacks on Allied troops, those orders ended with this command:

‘You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand. It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we'll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts. If that's the case, live on coconuts! Under no circumstances are you [to] give up your life voluntarily.’

Onuda took his orders so seriously that after a long period of silence, when he finally emerged from the jungle, he was still prepared to fight. --- The problem was that it was 1972. The war had been over for 27 years. Lt. Onudo had been living in the jungle, preparing to fight and die, in a constant state of war for almost 30 years.

No one had ever told him that the war was over.
No one had ever told him that there was peace.

In our text this morning the angels came to the shepherds in the fields and told them:

Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace to all people,
On whom his favor rests.

That’s the good news of Christmas. Peace to all people. But if that’s true, then why does the world seem to be completely buried in conflict?

We could spend the rest of the morning talking about all the places where peace doesn’t exist, but that would only tell a part of the story. The peace that the angels promised is more than just the end of war—it was more than just warm fuzzy love for everyone—it was more than just the absence of conflict and strife.

The peace promised by the angels is the shalom peace of the Old Testament, the perfect peace that existed in creation before we got our hands on it and broke God’s peace into a million little pieces.

Shalom has a definition that is as challenging to us as it is beautiful. God’s shalom is one of those words that doesn’t translate well into English, because it means about 20 different things. God’s shalom—God’s peace, is:

-Contentment in relationships with God and each other
-Harmony with neighbor and nature
-Wholeness in all things

When God called Israel to be his people, it was for a purpose. They had a job to do because of their special status. God called his people not to bask in their privileged place as the chosen nation, but to be a blessing to all the nations. That’s quite a job description. They were called to be the presence and image of God to people who hadn’t heard his name yet. They were called to be instruments of his peace in a world full of conflict.

A few weeks ago leaders from Israel and the Palestinian Authority met to try and chart a course toward peaceful coexistence between them and the world. Each leader took the microphone and began by listing the injustices and crimes inflicted on them by the other side. But each of them also acknowledged that the only way forward was to set those grievances aside and move ahead—they proposed a wary sort of forgiveness between their people—they offered to give up their rights to revenge and retribution.

So many of the commentators that evening yawned and rolled their eyes. They said it was just a president trying to create a legacy—they said they’d heard it all before—they said it would never work.

The Christmas season gives me a special opportunity to say things like this: Those are all lame excuses for not being supportive of the peace process, for not being agents of peace whenever and wherever it tries to live and breathe and thrive. It may take 5-10-or maybe 20 more initiatives like this one before a group of leaders and the people who follow them are brave enough to give peace a chance. No matter how many tries it takes, though, we’re called to be supportive of each one.

When Thomas Edison and his team invented the lightbulb, it was the result of years of failed attempts—more than 50 of them—to get a filament to hold current long enough to provide light without breaking, and now that light is still all around us.

It’s not the failed attempts at peace that we remember, it’s those rare moments where we get it right and peace takes hold in the hearts of leaders and followers. When that light takes over from the darkness and changes things forever.

That’s what we celebrate at Christmas.

Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace to all people,
On whom his favor rests.

When the angels shared this good news they were giving us our marching orders. They were helping us understand what it means to be a blessing to all the nations. I don’t always dust off my Greek dictionary from seminary—most of the time it just sits on my shelf. But it’s important for us today to remember that the word for ‘angel’ in the Bible is the root of our word, ‘messenger.’ The angels came as messengers from God, and call us to be the same.

If there is anything we’re supposed to do because of Christmas—any challenge to us as we exchange gifts and decorate our houses and prepare meals—if there are any commands for us to follow because Jesus the Messiah came to us, it’s this:

We have to tell people that peace has come.

We have to tell people that the point of this holiday is that God has offered to repair the Shalom we broke, and that that offer has come in the form of the baby Jesus. We have to find the people still in the jungle—even here in London—we have to find the people hiding and preparing for conflict and let them know that the Prince of Peace has come, and that he wants them back. We have to tell people that the one who had the grievance against us, even Christ himself, has given us a remedy that extends as far as the curse is found.

That’s the gift to each one of us this Christmas, and to more still who haven’t heard this good news.

Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace to all people,
On whom his favor rests.

Go tell someone that good news this Christmas. You never know—this time it might just work.


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