Looking For Joy and Peace at Christmas
Christmas is a time of light – my wife appreciates driving through the various neighborhoods of our community and seeing the Christmas lights and decorations that people have put in their yards and on their houses. These lights bring her a special Christmas joy.
Christmas is a time of joy – “Joy to the world” we sing in Isaac Watts’ great hymn. “Joy to the world the Lord is come, let earth receive her king.” (1)
Christmas is a time of laughter and a time for families.
Christmas is a time of joy and peace.
And yet, like Bono and the other members of the band U2, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…
“I believe in the kingdom come, when all the colors will bleed into one… but yes I’m still running… but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” (2)
What it is that I’m looking for this Christmas?
I’m looking for joy and peace. Isn’t that what Christmas is about?
The announcement made to the shepherds on that Judean hillside declared, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (3)
Peace. We celebrate this season as the birthday of the Prince of Peace. And yet. We really haven’t seen a whole lot of peace in our time.
Just a few days ago on December 10, 2009, President Barak Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo Norway. And yet this award seems very ironic to me as it is given to the commander-in-chief of the largest standing army in the world – an army that is currently engaged in not one, but two wars.
In his 36-minute acceptance speech, President Obama recognized this irony and discussed the tensions between war and peace and the idea of a "just war."
… perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars.
… we are at war, and I’m responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict — filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.
…I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.
We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
…So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another — that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such. (4)
I am not ashamed to say that I cast my vote in the last election for Obama. I was (and continue to be) excited by the ‘hope’ and ‘change’ that his campaign promised. And I believe that he has been and will continue to be a good president for our country.
And yet, I don’t’ think that I’ve found what I’m looking for…Because – despite the hope and change that marked his campaign - his leadership in this respect has been more of the same hopelessness.
Obama quoted one of his heroes (and mine) in his speech – the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.”
The history of the world has been marked by violent conflict from Cain and Able continuously through this morning’s newspaper. We fight. We fight. We hurt, and maim, and bomb, and kill, and destroy. Our human ingenuity and creativity and imagination have been harnessed to these ends and we have developed innumerable ways to hurt each other and kill each other – faster, and from further away, and in greater numbers.
But none of these weapons has ever made peace. There is no such thing as “peace through superior firepower.” Peace at the edge of the sword is not peace. Peace down the barrel of an M-16 is not peace.
President Obama says that he “face[s] the world as it is” with an acknowledgement that “Evil does exist in the world.” He is no hippy-dippy-utopian who believes that humans are basically good and that we can all learn to get along, holding hands as we sit around the campfire… He says that his use of force and violence and warfare can be justified as a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
And In one sense, I can and do agree with him there. Humanity is fallen. Humanity is broken. Our every imagination is bent towards evil. And if that were the final word on the subject, then President Obama’s justification would be valid.
But there is another word. There is something more than the imperfection of man; there is something that transcends the limit of human reason.
And that’s what we’re celebrating at Christmas.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining (5) . People lived in darkness and under the constant menace of the shadow of death. Warriors in heavy boots and blood smeared armor enforced a peace at the edge of a sword. The world was weary and burdened and oppressed.
But that choir of angels came bursting through the fabric of space and time to announce to the humble shepherds that Peace had come; they heralded the birth of the Messiah, the one Isaiah said would break that yoke of oppression, would consign the soldiers uniforms to the fire, who would snap the spear and shatter the bow. The one who would make wars cease to the ends of the earth. (6)
For unto us a child is born
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders
and he will be called
Prince of Peace. (7)
The weary world rejoices at this angelic announcement. Governments, Kings and Princes, and Commanders-in-Chief quake because it means that the old ways can no longer be tolerated. The birth of this child, this son is the thrill of Hope and Change that no elected official can create. This is the breaking of a new and glorious morning –the dawning of a great light over the land of darkness.
Truly his taught us to love one another
His law is love and his gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break, for the slave he is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
This is something more than the imperfection of man and the limit of reason. This is the eternal God stepping into human history. As the prophet Isaiah said, “The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”
We cannot make peace with our armies. We never have. We never will.
We make peace by realizing that Christ was born, not just to save us from our personal and individual sins, but also to restore a fallen humanity to its intended glory. There is no glory in war. There is no honor or valor in tragedy that war promises and that war inevitably delivers. There is no glory in human slaughter.
We make peace by realizing that law of love and that gospel of peace. Peace between God and man and Peace between men.
We make peace by refusing to accept any longer the claim that war is regrettably necessary. We make peace by refusing to participate in a perpetual cycle of violence that never solves the problems facing our world, by refusing to participate in a cycle of violence that fosters more violence and creates more problems and more hatred.
We make peace when we truly honor the birth of that child, the son that was given to us. We make peace when we celebrate Christmas – not as an orgy of consumerism, or as a warm fuzzy feel good season – but as the birth of the Son of God and we Hail him as the heaven born Prince of Peace (8), and when we honor him by living lives of peace.
1 Joy to the World – Words by Isaac Watts, Music by George F. Handel
2 I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For Words by Bono, Music by U2
3 Luke 2: 14
4 President Barak Obama’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech - http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/12/10/obama.transcript/index.html
5 O Holy Night (Cantique de Noel) Words by Placide Cappeau, Music by Adolph Adam,
Translated by John S. Dwight
6 Psalm 46:9
7 Isaiah 9: 2 -7
8 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing Words by Charles Wesley, Music by Felix Mendelssohn