Summary: Peace is a gift made possible by Jesus Christ, but if we are to truly experience peace, it requires that we follow the path to peace, the example that Christ has set for us.
This past Monday morning, news broke that there was a bomb threat on the Harvard campus. This happened after I was already out of the house and settled into my office for the day. But I just happened to call my Mom about something else right after the news broke. After I had finished talking to her about whatever it was I had called about, she asked, “So, have you heard the news?” My response something along the lines of, “I don’t know, what is it?” She went on to share the news of the bomb threat; classes were being called off, finals were cancelled, and four buildings had been evacuated. Once my Mom had relayed the news, she reflected, “This is getting out of control.”
Getting out of control? I do believe we are already there. Two days prior to that Harvard bomb threat, we marked the first anniversary of the slaughter of 20 innocent children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The day before that, a crazed student entered Arapahoe County High School near Denver, Colorado, and shot a peer in the head at point-blank range in his search for a teacher who had dared to discipline him. It just so happens that Arapahoe County High School is only eight miles from Columbine High School, and seventeen miles from the infamous movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Do you follow me? We’ve watched a lot of horrible things happen in the last several years, not to mention just the last week. And quite frankly, it’s out of control.
These are just some of the “lone-gunman” shooting rampages in the United States; there are many others. And I’ve said nothing of the senseless executions in North Korea, or the nuclear tension in Iran, or the stifled protests in the Ukraine, or the civil war in Syria, or the “War on Terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we consider all the strife and unrest around our world, it makes it seem as if “peace” is nothing more than a “pipe dream.” And for good reason, I think. Violence is out of control! How can we ever consider that peace might prevail when there is so much fighting?
Yet God has dreamed up a world of justice, a world of peace, which is why we today mark the fourth unbreakable gift of Christmas as “peace.” And here’s why peace is an unbreakable gift; because the path to God’s peace is “the child lying in the manger”—the baby who would grow up to proclaim God’s special blessing upon the merciful and the peacemakers. I suppose it seems somewhat odd that peace doesn’t come through the violent suppression of violence; seeing as that’s how we usually seek peace in our world today. And yet, I think it’s precisely because of God’s approach to peace that this is a Christmas gift that won’t break.
When John the Baptist was born just a few months before Jesus, his father, Zechariah, able to speak for the first time in nine months, broke out into a prophecy about his son. You heard part of that prophecy this morning. Zechariah says that John will be a prophet of the Most High God, preparing a way for him, and telling people how God, in his immense compassion, will save the people from their sins. Zechariah shares this vision of God bringing light to those sitting in the shadow of darkness and death, and guiding people on the path of peace. As you all are well aware, people expected the “Most High God,” the Messiah, to be a conquering hero; someone who would sweep into the world and quickly vanquish Israel’s enemies. The Jews fully expected that their enemies would suffer the same violent fate they had been suffering for generations. But when Zechariah begins to prophesy (the first prophecy among the Israelites in over 400 years), he tells a different story. His son, John has come to show us the path to Jesus, and Jesus is coming to show us the path to peace. Sure enough, a few months later, another baby was born—weak and vulnerable, peaceful even—and though he was not a conquering hero, he was the Messiah.
Violence perpetuates violence. And seeking peace through violence only adds to that cycle. But when you make yourself vulnerable in the face of violence, that brings peace in a completely different way. When violence is countered with non-violence, with true peace, it exposes the sheer brutality and evil of fighting and killing. Unlike modern video games and cultural norms; humility, sacrifice, and peace make violence unattractive. God intended from the very beginning that this world, his creation, would be a peaceful place; a place where, as Isaiah says, “the wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat…” And just as Isaiah foretold a little later in that same passage, God sent his very own son—a baby, a child, to show us how to make that peaceful kingdom a reality, which is exactly what Jesus did.