by Rev. Dr. Daniel Adebayo Iselaiye – ECWA USA DCC Chairman
Bible Texts: St. Luke 2:13-15; St. John 10:10; 14:27
The Question: Why are many people not experiencing peace and justice today? The way we answer this question may not satisfy you but you will have enough information to get a better answer for yourself. This kind of reflection is good at this time of the year when Christians celebrate Christmas—the birth of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God who stands as the embodiment of God’s grace and peace to the whole world. The question is asked, “Do we really enjoy that peace?” Many do not know that peace and some we do anything to have it. You may willingly offer your gift to someone but that does not mean that it will be accepted. To have peace, we must give peace a chance. If there is going to be peace, it is up to us. It is already given by Christ the prince of peace. This offer can be accepted or rejected. Our response determines the direction of our life. The intention here is to shed some light on reasons why many do not have the peace. We are called to know the difference between what Jesus gives and what the world gives in terms of peace.
Let us look at four of the numerous texts that bring God’s promise of peace and grace to the world:
- St. Luke says, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (2:14).
- Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (St. Luke 17:20-21).
- In St. John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
- “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (St. John 14:27).
The celebration of Christmas will be more meaningful if we truly understand the message of these texts. First of all, it is important for us to know that from day one of human life, Satan has waged war against human beings to possess their souls. Let us see where it all begins. After the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, God said to the serpent (the devil),
“Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:14-15).
Do we care to know what this means? Humanity can trace the beginning of its battle and joyful victory to this first evangel declared by God. There has been an ongoing battle between human beings and the devil. While God reigns as a Supreme Being, Satan wants to fight for supremacy. We are given the first hint about the coming of Jesus to deal with the devil so that humanity might enjoy the peace and grace of God as its divine heritage. Even though the devil will strike our heels -bringing much headache, pains, sufferings, and even physical death to humanity, Jesus, the offspring of the woman will indeed crush the enemy’s head. For us to know the presence of Jesus in the world in terms of this mission, he comes and calls himself nothing but the Son of Man. His coming is good news. His coming conquers the devil. That is the reason a great company of heavenly host appear with the angel praising God.
Jesus, knowing that the devil is out there to steal, kill, and destroy, considers it important to affirm his peace-mission by saying, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” If we are to accept and keep what is given to us, we must be conscious of the battle we are to wage against the devil. Paul faced persecution and death and Christians were considered as sheep to be slaughtered, but in all these things, he said, “we are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). Jesus must live in us and if the Conqueror lives in us, then, we are indeed more than conquerors. The angel and the heavenly host knew this and communicated it to the world. This calls for our continuous celebration of Christmas, if only we have received that peace offered to us by God.
Having the peace of Jesus in our hearts indicates that we have the spirit of God within us. The acceptance of Jesus Christ means the reign of God in our hearts. If God rules your heart He reigns. It is in that context that Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is in your midst.” Wherever God rules, there you will find His kingdom. It is Christmas! Let us give peace a chance, but we must know what this mean in practice.
There is a strong connection between peace and justice. This made people like Rev. Roderick, a pastor of an African-American Church in Akron, Ohio to lead his congregation in a peaceful protest following a grand jury decision in Ferguson. They were heard chanting, “No justice, no peace!” The link is so strong that we can do nothing to cover it up or separate them. Israel tried to do it and failed. Associating justice with peace calls for our response. Hear what the prophet said when Israel neglected justice to pay more attention to other activities. Religious people were full of activities – feasts, assemblies, burnt offerings, fellowship offerings, music of harps, but God said, “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24).
The link between peace and justice is weakened whenever we see peace in our terms. There is an objective reality to true peace. Jesus knows that there are many ways nations seek after peace but peace devoid of truth is no peace. It is this real truth that the world needs to know and accept. Who then is the Truth? Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). As we remember again the coming of the Prince of Peace, it is important to remember what he said about peace. Read his claim again: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” This seems to tell us that the world doesn’t really have true peace. This is something we should wrestle with but it is good to find out how the world offers its own peace to us.
We have troubles all over the world today because each nation has its own ways of bringing about what it calls peace. People seek peace based upon their own subjective claims. The truth value of the peace the world seeks to give is dependent upon unique experiences, moods, beliefs, opinions, and feelings of a particular people or groups. For an example, a particular people may feel that the way their country can have peace and tranquility is to eliminate or annihilate others that are not like them. They will not call it racism or ethnic cleansing but a way of maintaining peace and order. Such approaches to peace do not last but they do more harms than good. Such subjectivism does not give peace a chance except to open ways for evils, such as racism, sexism, stereotyping, prejudging, scapegoating, snob appeal, rationalization, provincialism, tribalism, psychological denial, guilt by association, hasty conclusion, and so on. None of these examples of evils is moved by reason, and if they are not, then, they fall under errors of reasoning or fallacies that lead people to more sins. Regarding peace, the world has missed the mark.
Christ’s peace is without distortion. It comes with its objective reality. Its truth is not relative. Its value is independent of our own beliefs and experiences because it comes from God. That peace has “agape” in its DNA. Those who have it pass it on to others. It is moved by the love of God. As we come to the season of Christmas, let us remember that the Prince of Peace has come down to us as a gift from God. Give the gift of peace to others around you. Having the spirit of forgiveness is important to the making of peace. Forgive and move happily to the New Year. Peace is moved by love. Love others and move in that spirit into the New Year. Peace comes with responsibilities or commitments.
“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalms 34:14).
Finally, brothers and sisters, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). When you give peace a chance, God’s grace and peace will abide with you. Amen!