The news tells us of many major trouble spots in the world. After the
death of Yasser Arafat, are we now going to see more
work on the so-called “road-map to peace”? Initial reports of conflict between
Palestinian factions haven’t been encouraging. Can
We need peace in our world. But what do we mean – what is peace? The dictionary gives two definitions of peace. It says first that it is “a state of calm and quiet” and second that it is “an absence of war or strife.” Both need to happen in the parts of the world we have been talking about. There need to be calm and quiet, a laying down of arms, the giving up of war and anger and strife.
The mother tends to think of peace when all the children are in bed. The cane farmer may think of peace when the crushing is over for the season.
But in the Bible peace is a much more active quality. The Hebrew word shalom is a positive quality of well-being, wholeness, prosperity.
A few years ago I had a couple of spots of bother with our car – the uncertainty that you get when you turn the ignition key and wonder whether it is going fast enough to start the engine. Then it wouldn’t even turn the engine but I was able to roll it out onto the street and started it down the gentle slope. I was fairly confident that the battery would charge up and all would be well. I reached my destination. But when I was due to return – barely even a click! The car was at peace! Or was it?
Our idea of peace is rather negative – when nothing is happening. And yet the Biblical view of peace is when that car is humming along the road – not rattling, but going a hundred percent as it should – when the family is living and working together harmoniously, when the harvesters, haul-out trucks and sugar mills – and their operators – are all functioning as they should. That’s peace, that’s shalom! Not the negative view that peace is when everything is quiet and still.
One of the typical gravestone epitaphs is “R.I.P.” – Rest in Peace. We assume that life is one big struggle and that peace comes when, like my car, everything stops. Not so! Peace is wholeness. It’s when things are going the way they should.
How can peace be achieved? What is the “path to peace”?
We need to recognise, first of all, that we are living in a state that can’t really be described as peace and that the root problem is what we call sin. We aren’t taking off our realistic hat and putting on our religious hat at this point – sin really is the problem in our world.
We have become isolated from God and from one another. We have tried to live a life that is separate from God, perhaps even in active rebellion against God. But this doesn’t just affect our relationships “out there” – it is something that brings turmoil within and all the questions of who we are, because we desperately want to be ourselves and do our own thing. But that doesn’t turn us into the people we would like to be – it doesn’t work out that way!
Separate from God, we are under judgment – we experience the wrath of God. Sin has consequences, here and for eternity.
But God isn’t satisfied. It’s true that he is just and holy. But his desire isn’t stop rebellion, nor to remove from us the possibility of choosing – even though one of the results of our ability to choose is that we may choose the wrong way. God’s wants to win us back, to forgive us, to restore us into his family.
So God chose a man, Abraham. God said to Abraham, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12.3). Through Abraham and his descendants, God was revealing his nature – the sort of God that he is – and his purposes of mercy, rescue and redemption.
As part of God’s relationship with his special people, there were set up a special group of people who were priests. They offered sacrifices which represented among other things the seriousness of human sin and the need for something to be done to restore a right relationship with God so that there could be peace.
As time went on, it became clear that God was promising a special deliverer who would be the Messiah, the anointed one, the chosen one.
Zechariah, who spoke the words of today’s reading, was the father of John the Baptist. John had only just been born. Zechariah was speaking this wonderful prophecy which included what the baby John was going to do. “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (Lk. 1.76-77). Isn’t that a wonderful promise? John, you are the one who is going to prepare the way for the Lord.
Why is God doing this? God is making peace – “because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (vv. 78-79).
We think of Jesus for whom the prophet Isaiah said, “He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9.6).
We are preparing ourselves for Christmas. Let us prepare ourselves to welcome the Prince of Peace!
Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill & Ayr Uniting Churches, 21 November 2004
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.
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