Wednesday, December 16, 2015

He Himself will be Our Peace

Fourth Sunday of Advent Year C

In the first reading today, we are introduced to the Prophet Micah, a lesser known contemporary of the great prophet Isaiah. Although he had lived through a series of political calamities (fall of Assyria, Samaria, invasion of Judah by Assyria), Micah regarded the enemy within as a greater threat than the enemy from without. What threatened the “peace” of Judah were not its external foes but their own waywardness. Micah preached to his people about the past, the present and the future. Like all other prophets, his prophecies were stark and biting, but always ended with a message of hope.

According to Micah, in the past, the people had been very bad. In the present they were even worse. He denounced the hypocrisy of a flourishing religious cult that did not translate its piety into an ethical code of social justice. In other words, the people professed their love for God but had little regard for their neighbor. Sparing no one, the prophet would expose the sins of the wealthy merchants, the corruption of the judicial system, the arrogant and greedy, the idolaters, the “sacred prostitutes,” and even the failures of priests and fellow prophets.

But God’s loving kindness and his fidelity to His covenant would prevail even over his people’s failure. This is where today’s reading speaks of Micah’s prophecy for the future, a prophecy filled with hope, a prophecy that stirred the imagination of the people awaiting the time when their deliverer would come to create a future peace and stability for the very people who had sinned so grievously. For a people who have known only war, there would finally be peace. Many nations would follow the Lord and that there would no longer be any war. Instead they would hammer their swords into ploughs. Where would such a promise be fulfilled? What would be the sign?

The prophet, like many of his contemporaries, had grown disillusioned of the anointed kings of Judah. The answer did not lie with them but in a future anointed one or messiah, whose rule would bring peace once again to Israel and to Judah. Not from Jerusalem’s glorious height but from lowly Ephrathah would the expected one come. Birthplace of Jesse, David’s father, Ephrathah was the name of the clan of the tribe of Judah that had settled in Bethlehem after entry into Canaan. From the insignificant clan of Ephrathah, that is of Jesse and David’s line, would come forth the future ruler of Israel. And “He himself will be peace.”

In a world filled with war and violence, in a world thirsting for lasting peace, it’s difficult to see how Jesus could be the embodiment of peace. This is especially so when we know of his own violent and horrific death. But physical safety and political harmony don’t necessarily reflect the kind of peace He’s talking about. As it is recorded in the Fourth Gospel, before his death, Jesus told His followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Following His resurrection, we read, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19).

The Hebrew word for “peace,” shalom, is often used in reference to an appearance of calm and tranquillity of individuals, groups, and nations. The Greek word eirene means “unity and accord”; Paul uses eirene to describe a deeper, more foundational meaning of peace, that is the spiritual harmony brought about by an individual’s restoration with God. In our sinful state, we have been separated from God. But God now demonstrates His own love toward us, in “that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are restored to a relationship of peace with God (Romans 5:1). This is the deep, abiding peace between our hearts and our Creator that cannot be taken away (John 10:27–28) and the ultimate fulfilment of Christ’s work, as Prince of Peace. Note that peaceful doesn’t mean “easy.” Jesus never promised easy; He only promised the grace of peace. In fact, He told us to expect tribulation and trials.

Our culture has become fond of the notion of holistic approaches to health and well-being.  The supposition is, “Treat the whole person, their body, mind, and spirit rather than focusing simply upon what ails them to bring about total health.” We have to see that peace is not the product of a formula or a solution offered by the world. The world can’t give quietness or rest. Most of the world is looking for peace in money, entertainment, pills, alcohol, medication, or even a government handout.

Here is how the world thinks peace is achieved:
The world believes if it could eliminate war that peace would prevail.
The world thinks if it eliminated poverty and everyone had enough, peace would prevail. The world thinks if it could invent and induce a state of blissfulness through Transcendental Meditation, Yoga, altered states of Consciousness, it would finally experience peace.
The world thinks if it could eliminate suffering peace would prevail.  Without suffering we could have peace.
The world thinks if it could eliminate strife and conflict between individuals and nations then peace would flourish.
But nothing the world offers assures us of a lasting peace.  But I want to tell you that peace isn’t found in absence of anything!  Neither is it found in Peace Treaties, or National Summits, or Arms Agreements between nations.  It is only found in the presence of Someone!  And that someone is Jesus Christ, “He himself will be peace.

So in the midst of war, poverty, suffering, or conflict, in the midst of our personal turmoils and family crises, peace, in the form of a Person, is present with us and providing a sense of wellbeing amidst every problem.  Christ is with you through the wind, the flood, and the fire. Notice the peace that Christ offers: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7)

The world cannot give this kind of peace! It is less than a week to Christmas and we can’t wait to welcome the Christ child. It is as if we have become children leaping for joy. Indeed as Elizabeth told Mary, we are indeed blessed to believe the promise that has been made to us by the Lord would be fulfilled. Let us therefore remember that the promise of peace that we long for has been offered to us.  Let us embrace it—let us embrace him, Christ Our Lord, because “He himself will be peace.”

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