Thursday, December 20, 2012

Peace Beyond Understanding

The Angels sang the song of peace on the night that Jesus was born.  "Peace on Earth, Good will to all" was the message they proclaimed.  When we think about that message, we usually sigh in dismay because we know all too well that peace on earth is very elusive.  Has there ever been peace on earth, either before or since the birth of Christ?  If Jesus truly is the "Prince of Peace" as we claim that Isaiah declares of the Messiah (and Christians claim Jesus as their Messiah), then why has the reign of peace not taken hold in the last 2,000 years since the birth of Christ?  Is world peace truly possible in a literal way or is that idea something that only "dreamers" attempt to consider?

World peace is a lofty goal and one that may be realized at the end of the age or when persons depart this life and go on to the next, but the realization of literal peace on earth depends on the humans who inhabit this planet and the change that can happen in humans when they decide to attempt to enact peace in their own part of the planet.  Perhaps the concept of peace is not meant to be a global concept that happens all at once but maybe it is a personal concept, something that happens within individuals when they achieve an inner peace that is present in all circumstances.  Christians understand this as "a peace that passes understanding" as written in the epistles.  Buddhists may realize this as they achieve enlightenment through meditation and seeking understanding.  Followers of Islam may find peace within their traditions and the teachings of the Qur'aan.  Non-religious people may find peace in nature and harmony that comes about as they seek out truth.

If peace is truly an individual and personal experience, then the message of peace as proclaimed by the angels has to do with peace that comes about by understanding what God's Kingdom is and attempting to live as one who is part of that Kingdom.  Jesus described God's Kingdom in many ways as he taught the crowds who followed him.  Perhaps the greatest and simplest description is found in the Sermon on the Mount in what we call the Beatitudes.  Jesus described those who inhabit God's Kingdom---Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:3-9)  Those are the kinds of folks who make up God's Kingdom and for whom God brings about peace in their lives as they continue to strive to be part of God's reign on earth.

Each time we say the Lord's Prayer, we invoke God by saying, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done."  That short phrase contains the petition that we desire for God's Kingdom to come on earth and for God's will to  be done on earth, "as it is in Heaven".  True and literal peace on earth can only come about as humans would do God's will on earth in the same way that God's will is done in heaven.  How can we know what God's will is for we who inhabit the planet?  Jesus described that also as he told people to love God and love their neighbors even as they love themselves.  Jesus described a world in which people go out of their way to do good deeds for others and to love even those who do not love you back.  The world that Jesus envisioned is one that he never realized during his short life on earth.  He died a cruel and violent death at the hands of religion and government and his words of love were lost on those who would see his life end.

Having inner peace in the midst of the events of a turbulent and violent world may seem hard to achieve for many people.  When people see the daily events in which person after person murders others, when countries threaten to destroy one another, when weapons of war are sought for the sake of personal security, it is hard to imagine anyone not being worried to death by the state of society today.  Those who put their trust in a "higher power", however, often do not worry about threats that society may make against them.  They trust that whatever happens in life, they will be secure because a power greater than themselves is in charge of their lives.  St. Paul expressed this idea in the thought, "Whether I live or whether I die, I am the Lord's".  He felt secure because his life was bound up in something greater than himself in which he would put his trust.

John Lennon, of Beatles fame, wrote the song, "Imagine" in which he described a world of peace.  He described a world in which divisions would cease and there would be nothing to fight about.  The world he envisioned was one that would have world harmony as all of humankind worked together.  He said, "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one, I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one."  John Lennon may indeed have been a dreamer, but he was not the only one.  The world is filled with people who envision a time when humans can live in peace with one another.  Until that day is realized, connecting with the source of peace within our lives brings a personal peace that few can understand but many desire.

May God's peace be yours in this Holiday Season and into the new year, a year of hope for a greater understanding among humans of what it means to love one another.


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