This time of year it is common to hear someone talk of peace on earth, we hear people wishing for it in songs and movies. This is based on the angels’ song to the shepherds in Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14 NRS). Leaving Luke aside for a moment; we all Say we want world peace but do we really. Sure if you asked most Americans if they want the violence in the Middle East or Africa to end they would say, “YES”, but, that is different from world peace. Do people truly want peace, or, are they simply hoping that those inconvenient videos of war torn countries will be taken off of the nightly news programs. I happened to see a Saturday Night Live skit the other day where Steve Martin sits in a chair and says his one Christmas wish is, children around the world united in a song of peace. By the end of the skit he has reflected and realizes he really wants horrid things to happen to his enemies, not peace. As painful as it is for me to say, I think this is a prevalent idea in our culture; people mouth peace; but, if they sat down and thought about it what they want more than peace is revenge.
Peace, if it is true and lasting, begins with forgiveness and attempts at reconciliation, not between large groups of people or nations, but, between individuals. Peace is not something that will be mediated in the White House, it is something that happens in your house. Peace is a genuine concern for another person, a commitment to love and good will. A cease fire is what happens in political treaties; political treaties say that two groups of people will no longer attack one another (and perhaps they will work together), but, this is not peace. World peace is when everyone looks around at their neighbors and says, “that is not an evil person that is a person who treated me harshly one time and I will forgive that person.” If I harbor hatred toward another person, if I arrogantly believe hold a grudge, if I simply label someone a “hater”, if I only look for another’s weaknesses and not strengths, I will not be at peace with that person. World peace cannot happen so long as the everyday neighbors cannot live at peace. I may not be at war with my neighbor, but, if I am not seeking harmony with my neighbor, I am not at peace either.
Back to the passage in Luke, the angels are announcing that Jesus is born, and their song is directly tied to his birth. The peace on earth the angels are talking about begins with Jesus. Essentially the angels are saying that in Jesus God has offered peace to any and all who are willing to look to Jesus. God is praised because God has extended peace to the world in rebellion. The extension of peace is to those favored by God, but, this is not a select group of people isolated from the rest of the world. “those who he favors” is the angels recognizing the gift may be for the world but true peace will not fall on the whole world unless the whole world is willing to unite in the gift of peace.
Peace is a difficult and demanding goal; it requires me to look at the person who has wronged me with forgiveness and grace. I cannot simply label a person as cruel, evil, or a hater; I must label that person as a neighbor who I can love. Doing this does not mean simply allowing people to repeatedly take advantage of me, nor, should I treat everyone like my closest friend. However, I must repeatedly give the person the benefit of the doubt, by extending forgiveness. Peace requires that I honestly discuss, as lovingly as possible, issues between myself and another person, in private; not making vague and veiled comments in public forums like social media. If I want peace, I must truly listen to the opinions and ideas of others, even if they radically conflict with my own. Something that is not easy in our American political climate. If I want peace I must trust others to not harm me, I must open myself up. If I am at peace with a person there is no need for weapon or shield, and if I want peace, I must gradually lower both. If I want peace I may have to expose a toe and it being stepped on, I may have to put down the gun.
I’m not sure I want world peace! Not yet.
I’m trying to want it, I’m trying to remove the fear and hatred of those around me and those far away, but, I haven’t yet. I still cling to the petty desire for revenge, I still smart at the last time my exposed toes were trampled on. Frankly, I know some people are not trustworthy, and I do not know which ones of you they are. But I am working on showing peace to all, I am working on trusting more people. I am at peace with more people now than I used to be, I have lowered the shield considerably. Hopefully someday soon I will be able to say, “I WANT WORLD PEACE”.
At the lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center NBC’s coverage began with a choir singing, “Let there be peace on earth.” The words of that song remind us that every person on earth is a child of God and must be treated as such. The song reminds us that peace and true harmony are God’s desired goals for humanity. The song reminds us that we must try to live every moment of life in peace with God and those around us. But most hauntingly the song reminds us that PEACE BEGINS WITH ME!