For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6 NRSV
When the Bible speaks of peace it is talking about something more than the absence of conflict. While ending war would significantly improve the lives of many people, God has an even grander vision. Peace, as the prophets speak of it, is a world where people are secure, are not afraid, have enough to eat, are healthy, have meaningful work and so on. God’s peace is a place and time where everyone can reach their full potential, where everyone can be the person God desires them to be. Biblical peace is big, inclusive and so wonderful that it is nearly unimaginable.
In the ancient world, as today, rulers were charged with keeping the peace. The security and prosperity of their kingdom was the ruler’s responsibility. Often to achieve “peace” rulers and nations used force.The “Pax Romana” was a peace that benefited the Roman Empire and was imposed upon conquered nations and peoples. As Brueggemann asks in his book, Names for the Messiah, can real peace be imposed?
We can think of times when peace was the result of treaty, or defeat and see that that sort of enforced peace is not true peace for everyone. Winners live in peace because the losers can no longer fight. Losers live in peace because the winner’s stop (mostly) killing them.
Rulers, in addition to keeping the peace are also expected to ensure prosperity. Sadly, war is more prosperous than God’s peace. So we live with peace that is not true peace. No wonder we are confused by Jesus.
The Prince of True Peace does not bring the peace we know and expect. Perhaps most confusing is that the Prince of Peace does not impose peace, because peace cannot be imposed. The Prince of True Peace shows us what true peace looks like in a world filled with false peace. True peace is so different from the false peace we are used to, that true peace doesn’t even look like peace to us. For that true peace to become reality, we must accept and seek true peace. The Kingdom, at least for now, comes one person at a time.
Now that the Advent and Christmas talk of peace has died down. How do we go forward as people who bring and embody true peace into an unpeaceful world?
My reflections this Advent and Christmas are based on Walter Brueggemann’s book Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study Guide.