Peace on Earth?
Rev. John Burns
December 17, 2018
In J.D. Salinger’s most religious novel Franny and Zooey, the older brother (Zooey) challenges his younger sister Franny’s view of Jesus. Although Franny is in a constant state of prayer to Christ, Zooey says she has never bothered to find out who Jesus really is. In frustration Zooey says, “If you’re going to say the Jesus Prayer, at least say it to Jesus, and not to St. Francis and Seymour [her older brother] and Heidi’s grandfather all wrapped up into one.”
Maybe more frequently than at any other time of year, the church commits Franny’s heresy at Christmas. To update the comparison, we turn Jesus into a combination of Simba, Yoda and Oprah: a lovable, wise, positive, all knowing, mystical giver of great gifts.
Our mistake might derive from a too ready embrace of the message of the Angel of the Lord when he exults “do not be afraid… I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10 NRSV) All people! “Wow!” we are tempted to gush. “Jesus is going to make everybody happy. He’s really neat.”
Perhaps we need to listen a little longer to the angelic message. Let the solo give way to the mass choir and hear the angels sing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14 NRSV)
The second verse is not the same as the first. In the second verse, peace on earth comes solely to those with whom God is well pleased. We learn that Jesus came, not to make the whole world feel warm and cuddly, but to make the desires of God crystal clear and provide us with the grace to live in obedience to that divine design.
In other words, we finally know how to create the beloved community. Love God and love one another as much as ourselves. Show compassion, insist on justice, make peace, eschew revenge, serve others, praise the Lord, don’t worry, share the Good News, evaluate our lives by more than our material possessions, confess our sins, pray, receive the Holy Spirit. That’s a lot to put into practice, but at least we have the information and the inspiration to do so because of the birth of Jesus.
Our Christmas reverie must always be tempered by reality. For logically, if God is well pleased with some, then God must not be so tickled with others. For every one person who embraces the ways of Christ, there are at least ten others who do not. We who have been converted to faith in Christ must continue to live among those who have no interest in the teachings of Jesus or, far more tragically, have developed a religious heresy that convinces them they are in harmony with God even as they behave in ways fully contrary to Christ’s teachings.
The small subset of true disciples in this world have their peace disrupted on a daily basis by the actions, attitudes and agendas of those who reject or corrupt the teachings of the Savior, Christ the Lord. And to make matters worse, even those of us who have been fully persuaded that Christ is Lord, don’t live in pure obedience to Jesus. There is enough sinful resistance within the best of us to disturb the peace on earth.
When we proclaim that the sweet little Jesus boy brought peace on earth, we appear guilty of false advertising. Especially when the world awakens to another mass shooting or to another despot imposing his will through violent means or to our own president sending troops to the Mexican border with orders to fire on those who wield rocks in their desperate attempts to enter this nation.
Instead of proclaiming a message of “good news to all people” to a world that knows better, perhaps this Christmas we should stay with the truth of the second verse. One has come to show us the way to be reconciled to God and one another. To the extent that we do that, we shall know peace, joy and love. To the extent that we don’t, the darkness will continue.
Instead of proclaiming a message of “good news to all people” to a world that knows better, perhaps this Christmas we should stay with the truth of the second verse. One has come to show us the way to be reconciled to God and one another. To the extent that we do that, we shall know peace, joy and love. To the extent that we don’t, the darkness will continue. This being absolutely true, let’s join together to carry on the work of the Christmas evangel. Let us help one another become Christmas people who call each other, and indeed the world, to live in favor with God and expand true peace on earth.
The Rev. John Burns is pastor of University Baptist Church, College Park, Md.
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