I was saddened by a phone call with Fr Martin Magill this morning. I mentioned how I thought he would be up to his neck in International Peace Day and he replied, "Oh it is good to know that someone knows about it."
International Peace Day is September 21st every year and that followers of Jesus have not taken such a day to their hearts is a sign of wrong priorities. Peace seems to have been demoted to lovely wee idea at the edges of Christian faith when it should up right and centre.
It was a few lines on Over The Rhine’s third Christmas record Blood Oranges In the Snow that torpedoed its way into my soul and shuddered me into reassessing this word, peace. As they sang…
“I hope that we can still believe
The Christ child holds a gift for us
Are we able to receive
Peace on earth this Christmas”
… something clicked for the first time. It is not a new line. I have been living with this line most of my life. I cannot remember a time in my childhood when I didn’t hear it at Christmas time. I heard it for years before I even believed that what it was talking about was any kind of reality. For the last thirty years I have worked the phrase annually. One of my other favourite bands U2 even had a song called this and I have written about that song.
However, this year, as my country’s peace process is unravelling and some of our politicians seem intent in speeding up its coming apart that near over familiar line, “Peace on earth this Christmas”,struck a chord as loud as any Jimmy Page strum and as spiritually powerful as an Old Testament prophet or actually a New Testament angel on the night God came to earth!
“Peace, Steve, Peace” is what my soul kept repeating. It is not about justice or vengeance, it is not about proving who was right or wrong. It is not about us and them and us winning. The point of this mission that God had in coming to earth was peace. That peace was not just for my soul. It was about peace on earth. Anyone following this Jesus whose birth is heralded in this angel’s song should be all about peace.
This of course is not an out of the blue declaration of a God reaching for some Plan B or C. The Old Testament was all about this peace; shalom is how the Jewish people said it. Shalom was God’s intention in the law given, for the King’s to achieve and for the prophets to critique the lack of. A favourite verse on the subject that I have blogged often is Jeremiah 29:7 “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” (NKJV)
Those who claim to follow the baby born when the angels sang need to find that priority of peace. That God’s people would seek shalom wherever they were was a way of being God’s holy nation, a people set apart, different, in all the right ways, from the other nations. We need to not blend in to the world’s intuitive response to seek to be proven right, in control and avenging all who would come against us. We need to be about that ministry of reconciliation that God told us we would be about just as we are connected to God himself through that same ministry of his peace making.
As my wee country’s politics drowns in political inertia. As we seem as intent on sectarian divisions and graceless soundbites and tweets as we ever have, we need, on International Peace Day, to see afresh this Gospel priority and commit to it with renewed courage, hope and all that grace that is intrinsic to the baby born and lacking in our current political climate. Peace. Let's haul it back from the edges... and no better day!