Seldom have I encountered a person who is truly at peace.
Biblical peace is described as a safeguard, both against the proud heart demanding its right to an answer, as in the case of Job and to the babbling soul as it comes to terms with its own sinfulness, as in the case of Adam. For both these men, peace was at the mercy of their immediate circumstance, and it is possible to argue that their demands are reasonable. Living amidst the tragedy of a fallen world can give our wrestling against flesh and blood a sense of justice, but often at the expense of acknowledging that the most important spiritual battles lay claim within the heart of man.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that it is those who make for peace, rather than those who are at peace, who are to be called the children of God. Why not the other way around? How can the Prince of Peace make such a command and later remark that He comes not to bring peace, but a sword? Perhaps the wisdom of God is kind enough to remember our humanity. What seems like a paradox is actually a call to recognize that a correct view of peace is a matter of eternal importance. Hidden in Jesus’ statement is the idea that, in order to make peace, one must be willing to observe truthfully, and that the dishonest observer makes himself an enemy of the kingdom of God. Dishonesty, in essence, is a form of resignation. It is the belief that God is insufficient to orchestrate the present and that what has been given to us in the moment could not possibly be worked for God’s glory. One decision at a time, resignation condemns the world to hell.
For some, the kingdom of heaven is reduced to a size that is more manageable, the size of the self. While still present in name, God exists as a slave. Captive to a list of rules and responsibilities, the Infinite is shackled to our subjective framework and lives as a caricature within the narrow parameters we have set. Looking at the broader context of the Christmas story, this attitude is present in Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Unable to believe in the power of God to grant him a son, Zechariah is rendered unable to speak and is forced into a position of observation. He breaks nine months of silence not only declaring the name of his son but also proclaiming to himself and his listeners that his view of God now extends beyond what he once considered possible.
For others, the kingdom of heaven retains a breadth that spares no knowledge and reaches past visible creation into the furthest realms of possibility. Choked at the hand of human questioning, everything in existence is forced to speak in terms of earthly wisdom. God’s gifts become nothing more than a tool for power, and the gift giver Himself is forced into exile. Such is the attitude of King Herod, whose earthly empire is threatened by the announcement of God’s arrival. In retaliation to this loss of control, he orders the murder of every newborn childbearing resemblance to Christ. This sadistic act of self-worship yielded nothing but suffering and left Herod to die as a victim of the very world he once sought to conquer.
So what does this mean? How can peace abide with us in this very moment? I have no answer, save that we welcome Christ as He is born in us. Growing up, my father was fond of saying that a life is best lived when it allows others to see God’s presence with you. Sometimes, this presence has come in the form of bringing a sword to my own kingdom. Sometimes it has come as I walk to get coffee on a weekday afternoon. Sometimes it is tears, the laughter of students in my physics class, or choosing to listen to someone I once considered unworthy of my time. Whatever the case, the kingdom of God has never imposed on true peace, and to stop and look for it as one who would be called a child of God is the best use of our time here on earth.
May we seek You and find You, born in us today and always.