A Christmas Meditation
Most of us want to be left alone to live in peace. Peace, however, is elusive. What, after all, is it? Is it the calm after the storm? Is it that which is gained through a war-ending treaty? Is it simple stillness? Or is true peace, something which is far deeper, and far more life-sustaining?
At the end of worship this morning, Sunday 23rd December, 2018, the church choir, orchestra and any who chose to assemble with them from the congregation, sang the Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel’s Messiah. Passages of scripture, put together with incredible music, present a powerful reminder of the good news that we celebrate. Performances of this 18th century masterpiece have become synonymous with the great festivals of the Christian year. Part one of the libretto contains the words in which the prophet Isaiah assigns names to the savior who was to be born. His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Oppressed Judaeans were looking for a political deliverance when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. They were looking for someone who would lead them out of the tyranny of Rome’s oppressive rule. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, it’s possible many expected him to establish a new rulership. And even after his death and resurrection, the disciples asked: Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6)
As I have traveled this year I have been to several places where I have met people who are looking for a political deliverance. In Venezuela and Turkey autocracy has gripped the nation, oppressing opposition. The current regime in India is endeavoring to make that nation a Hindu community with the suppression of minorities, much as Muslim nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia have long restricted those who do not embrace Islam. Meanwhile, the current leadership of China has frequently been in the news for its endeavors to control the expression of the Muslim communities of Xinjiang, the Buddhists of Tibet, and Christians in many of the places they gather.
The rule of the autocrat is often presented as a means to standardization. The subjugation of the individual to the collective is offered as a way to bring communities together in peace and unity. Yet there is no peace.
Even in our cosy, English-speaking world of the West, so long a beacon to the oppressed, we find ourselves challenged by societal division. Brexit threatens to tear Britain apart as fear is used to manipulate. In the United States the divisive rhetoric of the present administration feeds the partisan conflict of an already divided society. We all need a savior, our knight in shining armor who will ride in and make all things good again.
If that is the case, then we do well to remind ourselves that He already came. A baby in a manger; a teacher riding on a donkey; the Son of God, hanging on a cross. He doesn’t offer us an earthly peace. He offers us the power to become peace-makers in a world of conflict. He offers us a peace which passes all understanding; passing beyond politics into the realm of the deeply personal; passing beyond earthly kingdoms into the eternal.
Political change may be on our horizon. Political change may be part of our personal calling. However, political change will not bring the Prince of Peace into the lives of the people. As we enter 2019, may all of us who claim the name of Jesus, renew our commitment to live the life of the Prince of Peace, bringing unity in place of division, and calm in place of unrest.