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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Peace: Reflections for Advent, Week 2

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
-Mother Teresa

As fear is replaced, peace follows hope—a second glimmer of light, reminding us that one flame is good, but two partnered together burn increasingly brighter, illuminating more than one could ever illumine alone.

Peace requires humility.

Psalm 72:4, “May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor” (NIV).

At first glance, this passage of Scripture may sound more like the language of war than that of peace.  No one wants to be crushed… says the oppressor.  Yes.  Exactly.  I have good news: the solution is simple.  Do not be the oppressor, and no one will be crushed—by you, by the God to whom this Psalm appealed, by anyone.  When oppression ceases, true peace ensues.  If you happen to find yourself counted among the powerful, in the way the world defines power, this actually might not be the good news for which you were hoping.  Peace and power do not play well together.

Striving toward peace in the midst of oppression can look messy… can be messy.  Peace is hard to come by, and the temptation to separate and divide is nothing new.  The marginalized… the oppressed… they have always waited in eager expectation for the Messiah.  At advent, this narrative may best take the shape of shepherds—second (or third or fourth or last) class citizens by anyone’s standards leading up to the time of Christ, stereotypically labeled indiscriminately as sinners, exiled to the desert to perform their ‘worthless’ work, out of sight… out of mind… 

It’s not difficult to ignore the cries of the oppressed when they are so disgusting to us that they become less than human in our sight.  And yet, the very Messiah they anticipated came not only to liberate but to stand in solidarity.

“I’m a shepherd, too,” Jesus would one day proclaim, “and as it turns out, I’m a good one…” (John 10:11, paraphrase and interpretation mine). 

If anyone has ever had the ‘right’ to pull rank, it was Jesus, but instead the King of all of creation stoops down low enough to save the very least of all—to make the broken not only his priority but his very identity.  It sounds ugly, because it is.  Power is sexy.  Relinquishing power for the sake of people who don’t have it may be extraordinary, but it doesn’t come with any accolades.  I’d like to say this is beautiful, but it’s actually the kind of thing that leads to death.  And it’s not just about Jesus.  It’s about us, as well.

Because it’s just like God to do things this way.  God calls to God’s people, “Who will participate in the redemption of the world?  Who will join me in bringing the fulfillment of the covenant?”

This humility is the intersection of hope and peace, and if we legitimately want to see peace come to Earth, we have to be willing to relinquish our ‘right’ to be exalted as the chosen people, the ones who matter most, the rule makers and power wielders and… well… oppressors. 

Romans 15:5-9, 13 “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy… May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (NIV).

That just about covers everybody.  As it turns out, it looks like Jesus knew how to belong to the people, and the people surely belonged to him.  May we all strive for that kind of equalization at advent, ushering peace into our lives and this world, thinking for more than just a moment about what it is to empower others by giving up our own privilege and comfort for the sake of the world.

We can bring war unilaterally, but peace is found in community.  It only takes one to break relationship, but it takes everyone involved to restore it.  Perhaps this should begin with those who hold legitimate power.

Do this.  Say yes.  If you want to be like Jesus, accept the fact that this means identifying with the oppressed.  Do not misunderstand or try to find a way around this.  Let’s stop pretending that token servanthood or sacrifices which cost us nothing are the same as solidarity.

Jesus was a shepherd.

Be a shepherd.

Jesus is peace.

Be peace.

Psalm 115:14-15, “May the Lord cause you to flourish, both you and your children.  May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (NIV).

As God’s people, we should count the cost.  It’s not hard to find people who need peace.  Light one candle and then hold it out to someone whose candle also needs a burning flame.  It won’t even diminish your own light.  Decide that the cost of peace is worth it.


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