Thursday 1 December 2016

Towards a real world Peaceable Kingdom

The second candle we’ll light on the Advent wreath is for peace.

Like hope, the first candle, we could say that this is another term that means something different in the context of Jesus than how we might use it “in the real world.”  (There’s a reason for those quotation marks, and I’ll come back to that.)

The peace of Jesus is something different, alright.  In the Gospel of John, we even hear Jesus say “peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27).  Truly.  This peace isn’t just about an absence of conflict, chaos or trouble, it’s about the presence of God.  It’s the next link on the Advent wreath: when we live into the hope of God’s presence in our lives, we can also find the peace of God within us, that peace which is then lived out in the love that Jesus teaches us to share.

Jesus didn’t offer the disciples just a sense of inner peace, but the realization that inner peace lived out creates peace - and shares peace - with the world around us.  Loving our neighbour as ourselves and loving the world around us as Jesus teaches us to love, brings the prospect of peace without as well as within. 

Let’s go back to Isaiah for a minute.  I’ve mentioned before, I think, how much the followers of Jesus love Isaiah.  Isaiah’s the most frequently quoted Hebrew scripture prophet in Christian scripture and for good reason: Isaiah’s hope-filled prophecies of a messiah are heard as being fulfilled in Jesus.  Isaiah 11:1-10, for example, describes the shoot that will come from the root of Jesse - that the messiah will be from the house of David - and how “the spirit of the Lord shall rest on him.”  He will have all the traditional God-given attributes of a great king, but also “he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”  I don’t hear an army in that or force, in fact, for me, the breath that can “kill the wicked” conjures up the image of the breath of the spirit, of Jesus sharing peace and the spirit with the disciples.

And that’s the thing about “the peaceable kingdom” that Isaiah then describes as the result of the messiah’s reign.  “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.”  This isn’t a negotiated truce or an enforced cessation of violence, this is predators and prey living together and children, innocent and unknowing, kept safe from harm.  This is a fundamental shift in the relationships of all living things: “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.” 
Edward Hicks: Peaceable Kingdom (1826)
This messiah will lead the world to be so fully aware of God that we will return to that Eden-like paradise of all things being in right relationship with each other, that we will know we are all children of God, that love and grace will rule all hearts and lives and that we won’t hurt each other.

Wait, though.  That’s certainly not our world, is it?  So does that mean Jesus failed or that Jesus isn’t the messiah?  Or does it mean that Jesus, alive in us, calls us to live into that peace and strive for that world in this life, even as we know we’ll return to God?

Hence my quotations, “in the real world.”  The peace of God isn’t a concept to talk about for an hour in musty old churches or even in hip cool churches, it has real world application.  It did with John the Baptist, too, remember?  He called people to repent because the kingdom of heaven was near.  To repent means to turn, literally, away from sin, to make a fundamental change to a new way of living, of living into a relationship right with God and with each other.

If we want to make peace happen, it starts within us and is lived out with others.  It starts with the light of hope to guide us and the presence of God’s peace on the journey.  Jesus teaches us to do, to love and care and build our own peaceable kingdom.