Grace and peace are always for you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
This time of year we love to hear the words of the prophet Isaiah, “A child will be born to us . . . His name will be called the Prince of Peace. Of his government and of his peace there will be no end.” We remember a sky full of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace . . .” (Luke 2:8-10) when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. We believe Jesus is the fulfillment of the Prince of Peace, and we know and believe He has called each of us, as His followers, to be a peacemaker. Still peace is something the world desperately needs.
We think about major wars through the centuries, the peace conferences, and the peace treaties signed. I think of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 marking the end of World War I or the Treaty of Paris in 1947 marking the end of World War II. I think of the treaties the United States government signed with the Native American Indian tribes. How many of those treaties have been broken? The answer, of course, is all of them. There is no peace, no lasting peace in our world.
The United Nations, founded in 1945, has this model: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . . Still peace is elusive.
The Bible speaks of Cain murdering his brother Abel. It speaks of the sons of Abraham – Isaac born to Sarah (Jewish nation) and Ishmael born to Hagar, Sarah’s maid (Arab nation) – who are in conflict and enmity to this day.
We think of the Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers who hated him and sold him into slavery. Conflict is not just nation against nation; it’s also interpersonal relationships.
I remember a pair of brothers who were farmers – one retired, the other actively farming. The younger brother rented land from his retired brother. It had been a tough farming year, and so the younger brother asked the older brother for forbearance. Could he wait for his payment? But the older brother demanded the cash immediately. Consequently, the younger brother went out of business. For the rest of the older brother’s life, those two men, living in the same small town, never spoke to each other again.
We know the power of estranged relationships and conflict, but we also know, as followers of the Prince of Peace, God’s desire is for peace in our world. The biblical story begins in the paradise of the Garden of Eden, described as the garden of peace in Genesis. The scriptural narrative ends in the beautiful garden of peace described in Revelation, permeated with the glory of God’s presence. The Scriptures speak of God and peace in 400 references. The scriptural witness speaks of God’s initiative to restore and establish peace in every way. Like the Jewish greeting “shalom” we long for peace in our world, in our relationships, and in the inner soul of every person.
We might describe peace as the cessation of fighting, but I believe it’s more than the absence of conflict. Peace is the blessing of harmony with God, and, therefore, one another. It is coexistence in mutual respect, living in the presence of God’s Spirit in justice and love.
So, if we all long for peace, what are the threats and obstacles to peace? In the stream of consciousness, I might mention a whole number of threats: war, fighting, aggressive attacks, arrogant nationalism, racism, cultural insensitivity, religious conflict, greed, jealousy, exploitation, hatred, desire for revenge, grudges and bitterness, unbridled anger, unresolved wounds from a broken past, vicious tongues, hypercritical faultfinding, abuse, injustice, murder of the innocent, bullying, domination, brute force, the cycle of killing, revenge, retaliation, and conflict. It doesn’t stop; it goes on and on. No wonder God knew He would have to send His Son as Isaiah prophesied, This child will be called the Prince of Peace. And when Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary, the angels sang glory to God, for peace had now come to live on earth, and God’s favor was released to all people.
In Luke 19 at the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus entered the gates of Jerusalem at the beginning of Passion Week. The crowd of people lay their cloaks before Jesus’ donkey and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the King!” and “Peace in heaven,” for the Prince of Peace was going to make peace between a holy God and a rebellious world. The price of peace by the Prince of Peace was the cross.
Imagine the scene at the cross with the mob screaming, “Crucify Him!”, the religious leaders mocking Him, the soldiers beating Him and spitting on Him, and the disciples running for their lives. Here was the price of peace. The rebellion of humanity against the God who was the source of life necessitated the death of the perfect Son of God. The human problem of fighting was so deep and pervasive, it could only be solved by God sacrificing His only Son. And so He did in love. Scripture tells us:
• “God was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world to himself” (II Cor. 5:19.)
• “Jesus is our peace, for He has broken down the barrier of the dividing wall uniting us as one with God” (Eph. 2:19.)
Jesus absorbed all the injustice and all the perpetration of evil, all the sinful rebellion of humanity – weakness, sickness, brokenness – into His own body so He might bring us into oneness with God. Because Jesus went to the cross and God raised Him from the dead, God says with open arms, I invite you to peace. “Justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
So as you listen today, I ask you now: Have you come to a point in your life where your intellectual knowledge of the historical figure of Jesus Christ – crucified and risen – has led you into a relational trust in the truth of who He is, and a trust in the person of Jesus Christ? Have you come to a point where you have invited the Spirit of the Prince of Peace to flood your life with grace and a new beginning? The moment our faith surrenders to this love of God, the moment we embrace the beautiful truth of new life in the name of Jesus by faith, Jesus’ Spirit calls us as the followers of the Prince of Peace to become peacemakers in the world.
I love how Ken Sande, in his book, “The Peacemaker,” says it. “We’re called to be agents of peace as people of the King. Peacemakers are people who breathe grace. Peacemakers draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ and then bring Christ’s love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom into the conflicts of daily life.”
As a pragmatic application for we who are called to be peacemakers, what are the steps we can take with the Spirit’s help to make peace? The first is to stop all behavior, which perpetuates the conflict and the fighting. Somehow, the cycle of violence has to cease.
Second, we need to affirm a mutual commitment to heal the relationship. Often when I visit with couples who are experiencing conflict in their marriage, we talk about the natural tendency in our humanness to want to win the battle we are fighting. The goal in the relationship, however, is not to have a winner and a loser, but to reconcile to live together in love. We need to affirm that mutual commitment to heal the relationship.
Third, we need to listen to understand. What’s at stake for the other person? Why does the problem cause them so much pain or difficulty in their spirit?
Fourth, speak the truth in love. Name all the issues. Get them out there so they can be dealt with and talked about.
Fifth, own your own part in the conflict. Stop blaming. Stop your emotional reactivity. Stop rationalizing your justification to continue punching back. Repent. Ask for God’s help. Change your mind and change your behavior so transformation can come.
Sixth, seek forgiveness and give forgiveness. Consciously choose to let go of the offense and no longer hold it against someone. Forgive.
Seventh, change your behavior and your communication patterns. This needs the help of Christ’s Spirit.
And lastly, with all your energy, seek to rebuild and restore the relationship. Seek to strengthen the relationship and live in the forgiving love of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. “As much is it lies within you, live at peace with all people” (Rom. 12:18).
Desmond Tutu was the Anglican Bishop from South Africa, who spent his life speaking against and working against apartheid, a policy of deep racial oppression and violence. In 1995 he was appointed by then president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, to work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In case after case, Desmond Tutu sat down to do the hard work of arbitrating peacemaking. He sat with perpetrators and victims at the same table; one to confess their crimes and ask forgiveness, the other one to name the tragedy, the pain, the offense, and offer the gift of forgiveness.
Here is what Tutu said about this process of working through case after case and doing the hard work of what is needed for peace. “If you want peace, don’t talk to your friends; talk to your enemies.”
Once we have understood the glorious gift of peace with God and reconciliation with the One who is the source of our life, in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace then invites us to be His peacemakers. Jesus said this:
• “Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
• “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they are called the sons and daughters of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Today we rejoice by faith that we are at peace with God, that the Prince of Peace has paid the price of peace so we might know and believe we belong to God. While we are at peace with God, we also can be at peace with one another. God calls you to the adventure of being His peacemaker. Amen.
Rev. Lee Laaveg