Peace Be With You
Christmas Eve Homily
I wonder what image or name for Jesus resonates most in you? The prophet Isaiah said he would be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father, Mighty God. He was a miracle worker, redeemer, reconciler, teacher, healer, prophet, friend, son, brother, shepherd, king, savior, Lord. What is it that most defines Jesus for you as you come to worship Him this night? For me in this Advent season and after a terribly divisive year in our world, the aspect of Jesus that most resonates with me is “Prince of Peace”. Now this is not the simple peace of a lack of conflict between people, or between people and the created world. No, the peace that I am referring to is shalom.
Since Jesus was a first century Jew and steeped in the Torah, when He spoke of peace He used the Hebrew word “shalom”. Shalom is a rich and intricate word that communicates not only a lack of trouble, but wholeness, completeness, equity, welfare, perfect health. It is a word that denotes a return to the idyllic life of Eden when Creator and created walked together in the garden. It is the fulfillment of the dream that Isaiah saw (Chapter 11) where wolves and lambs, leopards and kids, calves and lions, humans and snakes – where all of creation lives in harmony one with the other.
It is shalom that resonates with me in this time in this world. A world where 65 million persons have been forcibly displaced from their homes – 28,000 each day due to war, famine, and natural disasters. A world where powerful men prey on vulnerable women and children while the world around them turns a blind eye. A world where truth is pliable and where the needs of the individual outweigh the needs of the community. A world where tweeting has become a preferred form of political communication and dialogue and compromise are forgotten in favor of partisan political maneuvering. A world where winning is far more important than doing what is good, honorable and right.
Jesus knows our world – because it was not so very different than the one He was born into. First century Palestine was a conquered province of the large Roman Empire. A lowly and forgotten part of the mighty Roman imperial machine. Most persons were slaves or impoverished serfs, not Roman citizens. Judaism was allowed, but the Chief Priest was hand-picked by the local puppet governor. Likewise, the Temple leadership were all in cahoots with the Roman Prefect of the region. The economic system worked by bribery and through patronage. The rich and powerful became richer and more powerful; and the poor became ever more marginalized, and the faith of all lay in ruins. Those that still clung to their faith waited and hoped for the long-promised Messiah to come and set them free. Truly we have not progressed much in 2000 years.
Jesus did come to set them free – but not in the way they wanted. He announced at the start of His ministry that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to bring good news to the oppressed, release the captives, comfort those who mourn. He came to proclaim that the kingdom of God had come near; He healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons and cleansed the lepers. His peace was shalom – a return to wholeness and to community. This conflicted with the political and religious powers and so they ultimately killed Him in the most horrific manner known. Yet, He rose and came to His Disciples saying, “Peace be with you; my peace I leave with you”. A peace which will last until He comes again in glory to fulfill His promise to all who believe in Him.
We gather together tonight to celebrate not only the birth of Jesus, but the promise of shalom until He comes again. May His peace be with you all now and always. May it so inform your life and your actions that you use it to help create our world in the vision that Jesus had for all of us. Because God’s gift of shalom has been left with all of us to create the kingdom of God here on earth. Let there be peace on earth – the peace that comes from having Jesus, the Prince of Peace, guiding our steps. Amen and amen!