Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent: Child of Bethlehem

Today is the 4th Sunday in Advent, and today we light the candle of Peace. Pease is a very complicated word in our world. There is so much violence all around us, and most people talk about wanting peace and praying for peace- but very few us actually work towards it. We tend to confine the concept to a large scale, to things like wars and riots and shootings, and when we think that way peace often seems like a wishful dream. On the hilarious old SNL skit that advertises a collection of songs called A Dysfunctional Family Christmas, one of the song titles mentioned is "Peace on Earth? Where?"  I think many of us would ask that question. And yet, today, we remember that the coming of the Christ-child was all about bringing us peace. Has God failed us?

Let's look at what we know. Hundreds of years before that night in Bethlehem, the prophet Isaiah announced the coming Messiah would be called (among other things) The Prince of Peace. When the angels appeared to the smelly shepherds they said to them, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth Peace and goodwill towards men." Jesus, in his most important sermon, said that those who work for peace would be blessed and called children of God. Peace is important to Jesus, and so many of us claim to be his followers. So where does it all go wrong?

I know you didn't ask, but here is my take on that question. When we think about peacemaking and praying for peace, we start in the wrong place. We pray for the big stuff, the major events, the real tragedies of violence- as we should. But that is NOT where peace begins. It begins in our hearts. God sent his Son on the first Christmas so they we could have peace in our relationship with God. With the coming of Jesus, a bridge was built and we were forgiven and forever connected to the Creator. The Christmas gift should bring peace to our souls. But it can't stop there. The earthly teachings of the Messiah focused completely on one word- LOVE. We are to love ourselves as God's creation; we are to love God with all of our strenght; and we are to love each other no matter what our differences and our circumstances. Peace is so often absent from our lives because we are just so bad at those three things. We dislike ourselves, which gives us bad attitudes and lots of feelings of hostility and jealousy. We are not fully devoted to following Jesus, so we miss out on his call to be radically different. And we seem to constantly be in search of new reasons not to love other individuals- or entire groups of people- in our daily lives. Peace begins with a relationship with The Prince of Peace and spreads through loving the way Jesus taught us to love. If we cannot forgive, overcome differences and face our fears in our families, our neighborhoods, our schools and our workplaces then we have no chance of being peacemakers on the world stage. None.

James Ward is a musician who (for too many reason to list here) also happens to have been a huge influence on my ministry. The first time I ever met James was 1982. He looked like James Taylor, but when he opened his mouth it was more like Stevie Wonder came flying out! That same year he released his album Faith Takes a Vision, and the first track was a song called Child of Bethlehem. I still break it out every Christmas. In it, James asks interesting questions. What is it we are allowing Jesus to be in our lives? Savior? Teacher? Prince of Peace? God sent his only son to die for us so that each of us would be transformed, and in turn would then be transformers of our world. For over 2000 years world peace has escaped us. But what about the peace in our hearts? My prayer today, with only 4 sleeps left before Christmas, is that we would commit anew to loving the way Jesus loved. That is the path to peace. Enjoy the song, and ponder the question- "Child of Bethlehem, will you be the Prince of Peace?"  Have a blessed Sunday.

My Deliverer is Coming,

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