For many of the inhabitants of planet earth, 2016 appears to have been a mistake. Because it is now no longer only contestants in Miss World whose principal hope is for World Peace. You don’t want me to rehearse the list of all the doom and gloom, because – thankfully – it’s Christmas. And Christmas means peace on earth and good will to all men, and women, and especially children.
This, after all, is what the angels were singing about when the shepherds saw them out on the slopes of the Judean hill country. That this baby Jesus, as he was growing up and preparing for office – was supposed to be the one to establish peace on earth. The trouble is, when he actually got into office and began the business of being a Messiah – he denied it. No – he said, I have not come to bring peace but a sword! Now – I have to say, on Christmas Day – with four children, four excited, exhausted, stuck-inside, over-stimulated, hyper-active, chocolate fuelled children, by the time of the Queen’s Speech, the hope of peace in our own living room feels less of a realistic prospect than world peace. And which Jesus is more realistic? The one who came to bring peace, or division?
So what were those angels singing about two thousand years ago? When world peace has still not been achieved, what exactly were they celebrating? When most people think of peace, they might think of something like the Pax Romana – the Roman peace. The peace that means the empire has finally crushed all resistance, so that revenues can flow from the conquered territories to the privileged centre. The peace that Darth Vader might have celebrated in the Death Star, had those pesky rebels not blown it up. That’s the kind of peace Jesus refused to bring.
So, for most the only alternative might be some form of inner peace. Withdraw from all the nastiness of the world out there, take refuge from 2016 in the quiet sanctuary of your own ‘safe space’. Jesus will give you peace in your heart, because you can escape from the unpleasant, bitter, unjust existence of earth into the blissful existence of heaven, the final resting place of the tediously well-behaved. Well – that doesn’t really work, because the angels were celebrating Peace-on-earth…
The Shepherds out there on the slopes of the Judean hill country, witnessed not simply a heavenly host, like a gathering of blond-haired blue-eyed child-like harpists with white nighties, wings made out of tin foil, and a fragrant hint Timotei shampoo hanging in air. What the shepherds saw was an army, an army that uses peace as its weapon.
They were probably singing in Hebrew, and the Hebrew notion of peace is not about everything being calm, restful, still – but about everything working together properly. An alternative power dynamic – that has a real impact, on the real world in real life. Somehow, the promise is, that this Jesus would have such an impact on the inner life, the political life, on the daily lives of people living in anxious and fearful times. But you have to read on to see how he achieves that…
Thank God for 2017.