Peace on Earth (Christmas Day)
Readings Isaiah 52:7-10 & Luke 2:1-14
Christmas movies tend to walk a fine line between the sweet and the sappy, the touching and the saccharine, hopeful and glib. The reason for this, in part, is that Christmas itself, is an incredibly sincere holiday. In its earnest appeals to the power of community, love, and charity it permits almost no irony. And a large source of this sincerity comes from what we see in our readings today: the Christmas emphasis of peace on earth.
It has become easy to be cynical about peace. To roll eyes at dreams of ‘world peace.’ Early in the C20th, when the war to end all wars turned out to be only the first world war of that century, which itself was followed by innumerable civil conflicts, ethnic cleansings, acts of terrorism, and neo-colonial occupations, a belief in a lasting, global peace feels like something many of us have put away as a childish thing.
And yet, when the choir of angels light up the shepherd’s sky they sing: glory to God and peace on earth! Fear not, the Prince of Peace is born, rejoice: Glory to God and peace on earth! We hear these words and think back to what God proclaims through Isaiah,
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace…
Peace is such a sublime and joyous announcement that even the calloused, dirty, sweaty feet of the messenger who has run barefoot across field and mountain might be declared beautiful. Because their arrival means the arrival of peace… it means good news, it means that the Lord has comforted God’s people… and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
The sincerity of Christmas and its ardent message of peace is not meant to make us feel bad for the way we have grown accustomed to war and conflict. We are not guilted for having forgotten or neglected in prayer the conflicts in Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine, Myanmar, West Papua. Rather, Christmas reminds us it is not childish, naïve, or irresponsible to yearn and work and pray for peace. It might appear foolish given the state of the world and our knowledge of human history to this point, and yet, Paul reminds us, Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
Is not the foolishness of God on full display at Christmas – the birth of the Messiah takes place amidst social scandal and governmental tyranny. God calls an unmarried peasant woman the Lord’s most favoured and entrusts to her the agent of the world’s redemption. God takes on flesh and promises deliverance to the captives with no army or cataclysm, choosing only love, fellowship, and that strange paradoxical cross that brings life through the snares of death. Isn’t it foolish to make the first announcement of Jesus’ birth to shepherds – to tell them with all sincerity and earnestness, glory to God and peace on earth?
And yet, such foolishness is what we are provoked by each Christmas. We are reminded and drawn back toward such an earnest hope for peace and asked to allow such a reminder to gently correct the ways in which we have accepted as inevitable the violence of our world. This doesn’t mean we ignore the complexity and scale of the world and its woes, but we don’t define the what can be by the what has been… after all, if we did that there’d be no Christmas.
The impossibility of Christmas asks us to put aside cynicism, to lay down irony, to give up worldly wisdom, and embrace the sincere, ardent, and foolish belief that with God nothing is impossible… not even peace. It is from here that we begin. It is not up to us to bring peace in its fullness (that will be God’s doing), but we are invited to participate in its forestates. The angels’ praise recalled each Christmas is an invitation to work sincerely for peace in our world, our communities, our families, and our own heart – it is an invitation to set our course by the star which announced the most impossible arrival of the Prince of Peace.
Merry Christmas: Glory to God and Peace on Earth!
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