This is the time of year for the saying; “Peace on Earth and Good Will Towards Men,” which adorns a multitude of Christmas Cards written in gold glitter. It comes from Luke 2:13-14 announcing the birth of Christ; “And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Over 50 years ago it became a staple of our Christmas Holiday TV viewing with Charlie Brown’s Christmas. With Charlie Brown in a state of despair trying to find the true meaning of Christmas, Linus walks to the center of the stage and under a narrow spotlight, quotes the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel, then concludes; “And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” The scene lasts just 51 seconds yet is the essence of entire 30-minute show.
Were the angels wrong when they told the shepherds Jesus would bring us peace? The world seems to be just as chaotic today as it was over 2,000 years ago. The reality is we are unlikely to see world peace. By nature, we are at war, not only with each other, but with ourselves. The Bible says “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?” (James 4:1).
When most of us think of peace on earth, we think big picture: no more war, no more social injustice, or unrest. Pretty much what Miss America contestants always answer. When our children were younger and said, “I want…”, my wife would always respond “and I want World Peace, doesn’t mean I am going to get it.” Finding some personal peace on earth is a lot closer and easier to achieve. We circumvent the process by turning to pharmacology, theology, or technology. Finding a little peace on earth can be as simple as serving others in the community. It may be as close as the back yard – around a fire pit, in a hammock, in the shade of a maple tree, or in conversation with family and friends. If we are to be a people of peace, our daily lives must be marked with peace. Seek peace and follow it.
Peace is not the absence of chaos where there is no noise, difficulties; it is the presence of tranquility and a calmness in our heart. Paraphrasing Albert Einstein, peace is present through understanding and not by force. I have been ‘at peace’ in a pre-game football locker room as well as being ‘at peace’ in front of an executive lead team making a business presentation. Peace can be a result of preparation and found when we are in a right relationship with ourselves, with others and with God. Martin Luther King said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.” Darkness is an absence; light is a presence. The sun rises to displace darkness. Yet it doesn’t happen in an instant like throwing a light switch, it rises over time and fills all the land where darkness is relegated to a minor part in the shadows. Infusing our world with peace is a similar process. Several years ago, we stopped our New Year’s Eve celebrating and now celebrate a New Year’s Day dawn with a sunrise fire. A peace filled focus on the coming year.
Each Sunday in church we take part in a practice called the “sign of peace” or some call it the “passing of the peace.” This ritual is ascribed to Matthew 5: 23 – 24. “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” When we pass the peace, we practice God’s call to “preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Admittedly, the sign of the peace lasts only a moment and it’s possible to participate without intention. Our effort needs to be intentional such that others see our intent and the act resonates beyond the moment, at least through exiting the church parking lot.
In sports, from Youth through some professional leagues, a post-game handshake line is a ritual. I have never heard of anyone “passing the peace” in this line, but it is an opportunity to pay respect to our competitor we just battled with as well as the game itself. For this ritual to have the effect it is intended to, it too must be done with purpose –no mumbling, firm grip, and make eye contact.
Robert Fulghum said, “Peace is not something you wish for; it’s something you make, something you do, something you are, something you give away.” Those words are similar to John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Jesus, knowing he was about to suffer persecution, countered violence with the gift of messianic blessing in the traditional Hebrew salutation of “Shalom.” The English translation of “shalom” is “peace.” But there is an additional layer of meaning to “shalom” in Hebrew, the root word means “to make whole,” or “to restore.” The peace comes with accepting God’s will. He embodied our identity as peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Jesus himself used “Peace be with you” as a greeting with his disciples and St. Paul opened each of his letters with the words “Grace and peace be with you.”
We cannot give what we do not have. We cannot bring peace to the world if we ourselves are not peaceful. We cannot ‘do’ peace unless we are ‘at peace’. Take time to find peace, it is something we all long for, but rarely take the time and effort to obtain and grant. Peace is the purposeful recognition of God’s grace in our daily communal life. Interestingly enough when Linus recites Luke’s Gospel during the Charlie Brown special, he drops his security blanket for the only time in the history of the Peanuts at the exact moment he says the words, “fear not!” surrendering his anxieties and placing his trust in God.
Choose peace in the most normal moments of a day through the most normal ways. Peace in our world needs to start with peace in our own hearts and in our own homes. Be the sun rise and in the words of one of my Dad’s favorite songs, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”