Friday, December 22, 2006

Rest in Peace.

We sing a lot about peace during advent. "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." "Sleep in heavenly peace." "Peace on earth, and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled." We sing of peace because, according to Luke's gospel, the heavenly host chanted "Peace on earth, goodwill to men" the night Jesus was born. Christians are supposed to be of irenic purpose.

Ironically, even though Jesus sent his disciples to deliver a message of peace (Lu. 10:5), he said he did not come to bring peace to the earth (Lu. 12:50). Indeed, wherever Jesus went, there was trouble. In certain respects, things seemed to get worse not better when Jesus went about effecting the reign of God on earth. Sabbath days were disrupted. Rulers were alarmed. Families were displaced. Enemies were empowered. Friends were betrayed. Not very good press for the man who came to be known as the "Prince of Peace." No wonder John the Baptizer had his doubts about Jesus. "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" (Lu. 7:19).

I look around and I think many wonder the same. A world filled with violence and hatred and restlessness and cynicism--where is the evidence that supports the claims of our Christmas carols? Did he bring peace to the earth? Or, are we simply fooling ourselves?

"Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, 'The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed'" (Lu. 17:20). There's the understatement of the century (yea, even a millennium or two). The reign of God's kingdom does not bring peace in obvious ways. That's especially hard to take when you're facing death's pallor. "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" (Lu. 23:39).

Sometimes, late at night, I cry out to God, "when are you going to do something about this? We're hurting down here. Children are abused. War reigns. Death keeps winning. Please, stop the madness." That's when I hear the cry of a criminal (of all people!)--a man who is getting what he deserves! Yes, justice, finally! Hear his pathetic plea: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Poor beggar. Pretty desperate. But then, for some inexplicable reason, the mercy man said, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Lu. 23:42-43). And, here's the most amazing part: these words were uttered from a cross, a Roman weapon of torture and death.

I think I see peace there.


Darryl Schafer said...

I think I've cornered the market on cynicism, especially during this time of year (I don't sound proud at all, do I?). To be candid, though, there are more times than I care to admit when my cynicism borders on hopelessness. If the Kingdom doesn't come with things that can be observed, then I pray that appearances are deceiving.

Enter your story about this beggar on the cross. May we all remember him when things seem hopeless. Because I think you're absolutely right: there IS peace there.

Clinton Sharp said...

The man on the cross next to Jesus...what a great picture...especially in the midst of all the people around me celebrating the execution of Sadamm makes you think.

Joey said...

I think I like that we can't see the Kingdom of God. It just seems to me that if we go around proclaiming "Behold, the Kingdom of God has come!" and people look around and see the world as it is, they will think we are insane. But if I think about it, many of the things that Jesus said seem to us like they are backwards. That's what is so beautiful about it. If we humble ourselves, He will exhalt us. If we confess our sins, He will cleanse us. We die to find life. He died to give the greatest gift of all to people like us. His enemies.